Bangladesh accused of using drugs war to hide political assassinations

Wednesday 06th June 2018 06:20 EDT

Dhaka: More than 120 people have been killed and thousands arrested recently in what Bangladesh describes as a campaign against drug trade, especially the sale of stimulant pills known as yaba. But there were growing allegations that the campaign is a cover for extrajudicial killings and political intimidation ahead of a general election later this year. Critics have accused the government of locking up, killing or intimidating political opponents under the guise of a war on drugs.

When Habibur Rahman last month joined scores gunned down by Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary taskforce, officers described how he had met his end. The alleged drug dealer had been killed in a gunfight with officers, they said. But Rahman’s family said that far from being killed in a shoot-out, the 42-year-old activist for the main opposition party was last seen being accompanied from his local mosque in Chittagong by men thought to be plain clothes officers.

One close relative said: “he was taken into custody after he came out from the mosque. He was killed in custody. He was neither a drug seller nor a drug addict. It was because he was involved in politics against the government and protested about land affairs.” The US ambassador to the country Marcia Bernicat too voiced concern over the killings,

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who launched the crackdown in early May, said it would continue the drive until Bangladesh was free of the drug menace. "No innocent people are being harassed or targeted, but if any such incidents happen it will be addressed through proper investigation," she said. Asaduzzaman Khan, the interior minister, dismissed suggestions of wrongdoing. "These aren't extra-judicial killings. Our forces are bound to use arms only to save themselves," Khan said.

Yet in a country where the lucrative drugs trade is entwined with politics and police corruption, the crackdown may be providing the opportunity for officers to intimidate rivals, settle scores and silence those who know too much, sources said.

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