Activists in Bangladesh have called for an investigation into a recent spate of killings described by many as ‘extrajudicial’. Activists claim most of those who died were affiliated to the opposition.
“Extrajudicial killings have been taking place for a long time in the country and it’s getting worse each day,” C R Abrar, president of Odhikar, a human rights group, alleged. “There should be an independent and credible inquiry into the incidents.”
Following the disputed general election on 5 January, in which the ruling Awami League retained power, activists claim the number of such killings has risen.
Among the 39 people who died in what are being regarded as extrajudicial killings between 5 and 31 January, 20 were killed in incidents described as ‘crossfire encounters’ or ‘gunfights’ by a local newspaper.
Ahead of the election, the main opposition group, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and an alliance of other parties, including Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamist political party, boycotted the poll because the government had refused to put in place an impartial caretaker government during the election period.
The caretaker system was viewed as a safeguard and had been used in Bangladesh since 1996, but was discontinued by the Awami League in 2010.
Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), a legal aid and rights group, had claimed there were 179 extrajudicial killings by law enforcement agencies in 2013.
“As the AHRC [Asian Human Rights Commission] predicted in its previous reports, and in the letter written to the UN Secretary-General prior to the 5 January 'election', the trend of extrajudicial executions has increased,” Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, the organization’s programme coordinator, wrote in an email to IRIN.
“The recent and ongoing extrajudicial executions appear to have been masterminded by the political regime, as the majority victims are identified as opposition activists, which is a matter of great concern,” he alleged.
On 27 January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Bangladesh government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to authorize an independent investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces.
“We are seeing a frightening pattern of supposed ‘crossfire’ killings of opposition members in Bangladesh. The Bangladeshi government needs to ensure proper control of the security forces and order an independent and credible investigation into these deaths,” said HRW Asia director Brad Adams. “The situation in Bangladesh is spiralling into a human rights crisis, with the possible return of suspicious killings by security forces, which we haven’t seen in recent years.”
The charge has been denied by the government. State Minister for Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the security forces were sometimes forced to use their weapons in self-defence, but added, “I am not aware of any political killings... I do not even believe any such killings have taken place in recent times.”