A Bangladeshi minister ordered authorities on Friday to probe the death of a housewife who died while in police custody, amid allegations from her son that law-enforcement officers beat her to death.
Yasmin Begum, 40, was the third person to die in police custody in Bangladesh since the start of 2020, according to a local human rights group, although a police commissioner told BenarNews she may have died of cardiac arrest.
“The death of Yasmin Begum in Gazipur has drawn our attention,” Sharif Mahmud Apu, information officer of the Home Ministry, told BenarNews.
He said Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal had ordered the police inspector-general to launch an investigation.
Begum’s son, Arafat Rahman Zisan, told reporters that she died hours after detectives from the local police station raided their home in Bhawal Gazipur, a village north of Dhaka, on Tuesday evening.
He said the officers were looking for his father, Abdul Hye, whom authorities had accused of being involved in the drug trade.
“They did not get my father. They broke the collapsible gate of our house, entered our house, slapped my mother and took her to the police station,” Zisan said.
“When I made a call on my mother’s mobile phone, I could hear that my mother was being beaten,” Zisan said. “The police beat my mother to death.”
Anwar Hossain, commissioner of Gazipur city metropolitan police, told BenarNews that Begum “possibly died of a heart attack.”
“Yasmin Begum was at the detective branch office for less than 30 minutes,” he said. “She had been a narcotics smuggler.”
According to Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a leading Bangladeshi human rights NGO, Yasmin Begum was the third person to die in police custody since the start of the new year, while as many as 24 people had died in extrajudicial killings so far in 2020.
According to ASK, 18 people died in police custody last year, while the number was 17 and 15 in 2018 and 2017, respectively.
During a three-year-period ending in 2017, authorities received a total of 16 cases alleging deaths of relatives while under police custody, according to official documents obtained by BenarNews. Of that figure, police have completed investigating only two cases, with one currently under trial.
Apart from deaths in custody, extrajudicial killings or summary executions at the hands of law enforcement agencies are frequent occurrences in Bangladesh, ASK and other local rights groups say.
Last year, up to 466 people were believed to have been summarily killed in the Muslim-majority South Asian nation amid a new government crackdown on narcotics, according to ASK, which started logging statistics in 2013.
“In comparison to previous years, the rate of extra-judicial killings has increased, especially with the introduction of the anti-narcotics drive and subsequent incidents of ‘crossfire,’” ASK Executive Director Sheepa Hafiza told reporters in January 2019.
“Crossfire” is a term used by Bangladesh’s law-enforcement officers to describe deaths that take place in alleged firefights between authorities and suspects during drug-enforcement operations.
“The trend of extrajudicial killings is on the rise,” Hafiza said. “We want all cases of extrajudicial killings to be investigated thoroughly.”
Mizanur Rahman, a former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, told BenarNews that police should stop using the term “crossfire.”
“We have been demanding for decades to stop all sorts of [summary executions],” he said. “We all know what the word ‘crossfire’ means: That’s extrajudicial killing.”