Who are these 'mystery men' extorting traders?
We are disturbed by repeated reports of extortion of vegetable and fruit trucks in Sylhet city by groups of men identifying themselves as members of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL). According to a report by Prothom Alo, about Tk 2 crore is being extorted every month from goods-laden trucks at the three entrances to the city, with Tk 2,000-5,000 charged from each vehicle. If traders and transport workers deny payment, they are reportedly beaten up, and their goods looted. The question is, why is this crime being allowed to take place every night?
The answer lies partly with the political identity of the criminals and partly with the complicit silence of those in charge of law enforcement. A Samakal report also found that activists of different groups and sub-groups affiliated with Sylhet BCL are involved in extortion and other crimes. Because of the terror they have spread, transport workers say many are too afraid to lodge a case or speak out openly against the extortionists. Some of the traders even alleged that police were involved in the process, as otherwise it would be impossible to carry out such acts every night.
BCL has denied the allegations of any involvement, of course. But can they or the police clarify who these mystery men who have such a free reign in Sylhet are, and why they are claiming membership of the BCL (and not of other affiliates of the ruling party)? The fact is, the high price that traders have to pay to extortionists is also hiking up the prices of winter fruits and vegetables, causing a ripple effect across the country. Even the Sylhet-1 MP, former foreign minister AK Abdul Momen, stated in parliament on Tuesday that criminals in his constituency are regularly extorting money from trucks carrying essential goods and urged the administration to stop it.
It is unacceptable that such a state of affairs has been ignored for months on end. We demand an immediate end to this terrorism. The extortionists as well as their enablers must be identified and brought to book.