The alleged murder of Teknaf municipality councillor Akramul Haque rang an ominous bell for the country's human rights situation, human rights defenders and activists said yesterday.
They also said the audio clips of chilling phone conversations that surfaced after the incident have left them stunned. They demanded that all incidents of “shootouts” be investigated thoroughly.
During a press conference at Cox's Bazar Press Club on Thursday, Akramul's wife Ayesha Begum alleged that her husband was murdered in cold blood. She also gave journalists four unverified audio clips of the conversations in support of her claim.
In one of the clips, a female voice is heard continuously screaming over a mobile phone hearing gunshots during a phone call. Ayesha claimed that the female voice was hers and the gunshots were fired at her husband.
The Daily Star could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio clips.
Terming it a planned killing, Ayesha demanded a judicial probe into the incident, and urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to ensure justice for “the killing of one of her dedicated supporters".
The Rapid Action Battalion, however, refuted the allegation and said Akramul was killed in a “gunfight” during an anti-narcotics raid on early May 27.
Yesterday, National Human Rights Commission Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said he himself heard the audio clips and expressed deep concern over the issue.
“People should not be deprived of their rights that are guaranteed by our constitution and law… The law enforcers have to work within the law to stop recurrence of such incidents.
"All the incidents [of shootout] should be investigated properly,” he said.
Noted human rights activist Sultana Kamal said Akramul's family was claiming that the audio clips were genuine whereas Rab, according to some media reports, was saying they would look into the matter.
"We welcome their statement that they will look into it and that they did not reject [the claim] instantly. But the big question is who will look into it?
“Our past experience says the findings will depend on it… We want to see who will look into the matter. It's a major issue,” she said, adding, “The family got the audio clips by chance which are not found in many such cases.”
“This single incident is very important and it can be used to see how faulty the system being applied to fight drugs is.”
“Every life is precious… Even if Akramul was a drug peddler, we can't support this process [shootout] as it is against people's human rights as well as the constitution and laws,” she said, adding that the law enforcers' claim regarding “gunfights” does not seem trustworthy.
At least 127 people have been killed in so-called gunfights, mostly involving Rab and police, in the last 17 days amid the ongoing nationwide anti-narcotics crackdown.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman yesterday said, “The excessive use of force being employed in the garb of gunfight absolutely disregarding legality with apparent endorsement of the government is creating enormous risk of institutionalising a trigger-happy culture in the law-enforcement agencies.
“This is ominous for constitutional and legal rights of the people, rule of law, justice and democracy in Bangladesh,” he said.
Prof Mizanur Rahman, former chief of National Human Rights Commission, said the incident involving Akramul was a glaring example of the danger that may come if any entity of the state machinery acts going beyond the law.
“It is not justified to do anything extra-judicially,” he said.
The Dhaka University professor said, “They [law enforcers] always say they open fire in self-defence. As per the constitution and laws, it is the judiciary that can decide which one is a shootout in self-defence. If the judiciary says it is a case of gunfight, it is indeed a case of gunfight. Otherwise, we can't accept it as a gunfight.
“We want to get rid of this danger. It is unexpected that a sense of insecurity will prevail in the society,” he added.