| The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 12, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:26 AM, January 12, 2017

3 YEARS OF AL govt: law and order

Extra-judicial actions remain extra concerns

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Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have repeatedly worsened the country's human rights situation in the first three years of this government's tenure.

The alarming spike in enforced or involuntary disappearances even prompted the UN in September to express concern and frustration for what it said “a very frightening trend”.

The incidents of “crossfire” continued. The victims were criminals, terrorists and even activists and leaders of opposition political parties. It is alleged by victims' families that law enforcement agencies have done these in the name of maintaining law and order. Officials have also confirmed it requesting anonymity.

In addition, law and order situation worsened time and again with targeted killings, militant attacks, political violence and oppression on minority communities and some gruesome killings such as the seven murders in Narayanganj, college student Sohagi Jahan Tonu murder in Comilla, attack on Khadiza Begum Nargis in Sylhet and raping of a five-year-old girl in Dinajpur.

Apart from these incidents, the overall law and order was largely stable during this government's tenure.

ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE

“According to documents prepared by human rights defenders, 287 people have disappeared from January 2009 to July 2016,” said a report of Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) placed in August before the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. 

Of the disappeared people, 38 bodies were found abandoned at different places; 132 were later produced before courts or surfaced alive. Whereabouts of 117 persons remain unknown.

Three people disappeared in 2009. The number rose to 53 in 2013 and 65 in 2015. From January to July last year, 52 people had disappeared, the report mentioned.

According to rights body Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) the number is even higher. Between 2013 and 2016, families of 308 people alleged that law enforcers abducted their loved ones.

Of them, 68 were abducted in 2013, 88 in 2014, 55 in 2015 and 97 last year.

The UN also believes that some cases of disappearances remain unreported.

The Awami League had pledged to stop extrajudicial killings in its election manifesto before the 2009 general elections but such killings did not stopped.

According to ASK, a total of 195 people were killed in what law enforcers claimed in “gunfights, crossfires and encounters” or while in custody last year. The number was 192 in 2015 and 128 in 2014.

The issue of extrajudicial killings was not in the AL's 2014 election manifesto.

MILITANCY

The government and law enforcement agencies drew flak in the last couple of years for failing to rein in targeted attacks on freethinkers, foreigners, writers, bloggers, Hindu clerics, Christian priests and people of other religious faiths, Lalon lovers, and LGBT activists.

The menace started in Dhaka but soon bloggers were killed in other places with law enforcers struggling to identify the militants and bring them to book.

Such attacks and killings continued until the country's worst ever militant strike at a Gulshan café in July last year that left 20 hostages, mostly foreigners, dead. When the nation was still reeling from the shock, militants attacked the country's largest Eid congregation at Sholakia in Kishoreganj.

In the following months, law enforcers conducted successful pre-emptive strikes in which 35 militants were either killed or arrested.

The militants killed during such operations in Kalyanpur, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Rupnagar, Azimpur, Savar and Ashkona include alleged “Neo JMB” chief coordinator and Gulshan café attack mastermind Bangladeshi-Canadian Tamim Ahmed Chowdhury, and Major (retd) Jahid alias Murad, who allegedly trained the five café attackers and several others.

The success quickly helped gain public confidence in law enforcers and the government as well.

However, the law enforcers' initiative in anti-militancy campaigns and de-radicalisation programmes were not up to the mark.

OPPRESSION ON MINORITIES  

The AL's election manifestos in 2014 and 2009 contained promises of upholding rights of minority communities. But the pledges seemed to be rhetoric as there were several attacks on religious and ethnic minorities.

ASK cited nine reported killings of Hindus and Christians for their faiths in its human rights situation report last year. A total of 391 Hindu properties and temples were vandalised last year, marking a considerable rise from 317 in 2015.

Footage, published by an international media outlet recently, showed policemen in uniform setting fire to Santal houses in Gaibandha. This shocked many who said the incident was the worst example of persecution of minorities in recent years.

LAW ENFORCERS UNDER POLITICAL INFLUENCE?

The government in its election manifestos in 2009 and 2014 promised to keep law enforcement agencies free from political influence. But the reality was different with policemen often seen swooping on leaders and activists of opposition parties even when they staged peaceful demonstrations.

When the AL held programmes or processions blocking roads and making people suffer in jams, police assisted the ruling party men.

A number of incidents of policemen harassing people revealed the high-handed attitudes of the force. Some policemen of Mohammadpur Police Station detained a Bangladesh Bank official and threatened to frame him in cases if he didn't bribe them a hefty sum.

This was evident in a sentence allegedly uttered by a policeman when he was assaulting a Dhaka South City Corporation officer. The victim quoted him, “Machher raja Ilish aar desher raja police [hilsa is the king of all fish and police is the king of the country].”

POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Law and order marked a huge slide for 91 days from January 5 to April 5 in 2015 when BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia announced a nationwide non-stop blockade aiming to topple the government.

During the long spell of violence, at least 95 people were killed and about 1,500 were injured. Most of them were people not affiliated with any political party. There was hardly a single day when innocent people were not burnt to death or injured in arson attacks on public transports.

Before the January 5, 2014, polls, the BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami unleashed violence never seen before in the country demanding a non-partisan government during elections.

In December 2013 alone, at least 80 were killed and over 850 wounded in arson attacks and clashes. 

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