Bangladesh Court Charges 12 Police Personnel in Shooting Death of Ex-Army Major

Sunil Barua and Sharif Khiam
Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka, Bangladesh
2020-12-21
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Bangladesh Court Charges 12 Police Personnel in Shooting Death of Ex-Army Major
[Sunil Barua/BenarNews]

A Bangladesh court on Monday pressed charges against 12 police personnel and three police informers in the shooting death of a retired army major in July, in a case that drew international condemnation of the country’s security forces that had for years been criticized for alleged extrajudicial killings.

The killing led to an uproar in the country and prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to assure the former army man’s family that justice would be served. According to a local human rights group, alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces have dramatically decreased since the high-profile incident.

“We submitted the charge sheet before the court on December 13. Today, the court had a hearing on the charge sheet and framed charges against 12 police personnel, including Teknaf officer-in-charge Pradeep Kumar Das and Sub-Inspector Liaqat Ali, and three of their informers,” Md. Khairul Islam, the investigating officer, told BenarNews.

The court did not set a date for trial, defense lawyer Mohammad Jahangir said.

Retired Major Sinha Md. Rashed Khan, who used to be on the prime minister’s security detail, was killed by police on July 31 at a checkpoint in Teknaf in the southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, which is near the border with Myanmar and is notorious for cross-border drug smuggling.

The court had ordered the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism body comprising police and army personnel, to investigate the incident. The RAB took a little under five months to complete the probe and prepare the charge sheet.

Jahangir said that the court accepted the RAB investigation which found that Khan’s murder was premeditated, that Pradeep was its mastermind and that Liaqat was the executioner who shot Khan at Pradeep’s behest.

“According to the charge sheet, the major learned about Das’s role in the smuggling of yaba pills. The major was trying to confirm this and that angered Das,” Jahangir told BenarNews, referring to an illegal narcotic that is a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine.

Khan had been in Teknaf with a friend to shoot a video for a YouTube channel. He had heard about Pradeep’s alleged role in drug smuggling from the locals he had talked to, said Jahangir, referring to what the charge sheet says.

On July 31 at around 9 p.m., Khan was stopped at one of the numerous checkpoints that are in place to guard against potential militant attacks and to check the illegal drug trade.

“Then they killed him in a premeditated way. It was a cold blooded murder,” Jahangir said, adding that Khan had stepped out of his car with his hands in the air when Sub-Inspector Ali shot him.

Following the shooting, Ali phoned Das who then came to the scene and kicked the injured Khan in the face, Jahangir said.

Khan was already dead by the time he was brought to the hospital, according to hospital officials.

A day later, the then superintendent of police in Cox’s Bazar, told reporters that the police shot Khan because he had pointed his own gun at the officers.

Soon, though, Ali’s conversation with Das was leaked to the media.

The police soon arrested them, other on-duty policemen and the three police informers, all of whom are still in custody.

Sagor Dev, one of the accused cops, fled, and the court on Monday issued an arrest warrant against him.

‘Fewer extrajudicial killings’

Since Khan’s killing and the uproar that followed, the number of alleged extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh has reduced, said Nur Khan, a former executive director of local human rights group Ain-O-Salish Kendra.

He believes that the swift arrests after Khan’s murder, condemnation of the killing by international rights group Human Rights Watch, and the transfer of the entire 1,400-strong force out of Cox’s Bazar in September have had an impact on the actions of security forces.

“At least 197 people became victims of different types of extrajudicial killings between January and July 31 this year, averaging 28 deaths every month. After Sinha’s murder, only 23 extrajudicial killings took place, averaging six deaths per month,” Khan told BenarNews.

“We saw in the past that extrajudicial killings apparently stopped after people’s uproar following some sensational murders by law enforcers. After Major Sinha’s sister filed a case against the police personnel, the law enforcement agencies got a signal that they should stop their excesses immediately. And they did it.”

Human Rights Watch had said in August that Khan’s killing had “finally forced security forces to confront their culture of extrajudicial executions.”

Over the years, international rights groups and some members of the U.S. Congress had brought attention to alleged extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh by security forces, especially the RAB and the police.

For instance, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said in 2017 that he had been corresponding with Bangladesh’s government for many years to express concerns about such killings.

In 2018, United Nations Special Rapporteurs to Bangladesh’s government said that alleged extrajudicial killings by RAB increased in late 2018 when the government launched a “war on drugs.”

And a 2019 Amnesty International report “Killed in ‘Crossfire,’” detailed the allegations of extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh “in the guise of a war on drugs.”

In October, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators in October urged the Trump administration to impose sanctions on senior commanders of RAB for their alleged complicity in hundreds of “extrajudicial killings.”

It was the first time that American lawmakers had called for sanctions on leaders of the black-clad RAB commandos.

 

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