At least eight Bangladeshis have been killed in vigilante mob attacks during the past two weeks after rumors spread on social media about children being abducted, police said Wednesday as they announced a public awareness campaign to contain the violence.
None of the victims of the lynchings and other attacks were involved in kidnapping any children, Mohammad Javed Patwary, the inspector general of police (IGP), told a news conference.
“None of the people who died of mob beatings or injured by the mob was a child abductor,” he said. “These sort of incidents or deaths are absolutely unacceptable.”
Patwary urged religious leaders to give special sermons condemning the violence. Two women were among those who were killed, he said.
In the past few days alone, at least 44 people have been injured in separate reported incidents of mob attacks across the country that were fueled by rumors disseminated online about children being taken, police said.
Authorities have shut down dozens of Facebook pages, websites and YouTube channels, and at least 103 people have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the spread of the rumors, Patwary said.
On Saturday, a 42-year-old mother of two died after she was beaten to death outside a school in the capital Dhaka by youths who falsely branded her of being a kidnapper, authorities said.
The mother, identified as Taslima Begum Ranu, was attacked as she inquired about the school admission of her children, an 11-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl.
School authorities rescued her from the agitated crowd, confined her to a room and sought police help. But the mob forced the door open, dragged Ranu out of the room and pummeled her to death before police arrived, investigators told BenarNews.
As she was being attacked at the main gate, onlookers were busy filming the incident with their mobile phones, according to the Bangladeshi news portal bdnews24.com, which cited witnesses.
“My aunt has two children. Her 4-year-old daughter refuses to eat,” Syed Nasir Uddin Titu, a nephew of Ranu, told BenarNews.
“What kind of a nation are we? Someone screams that someone is a child kidnapper and everybody jumps on her and beats her to death?” he said. “Have we gone insane?”
On Saturday night, another woman was lynched in Savar, a suburb of Dhaka, when she went to inquire about renting a house, police said.
As a result of the violence, authorities have ordered chiefs of local police stations to lead an awareness campaign across the country to stop the spread of rumors that could foment more vigilante and mob attacks, the national police chief said on Wednesday.
“From tomorrow, we will launch a weeklong awareness campaign against spreading rumors,” Patwary said.
It was not immediately clear when or how the rumors began.
Local media reports said the mob attacks started after Facebook posts circulated information that “child abductors are on the prowl to collect heads,” which would be used as human sacrifices for the construction of the Padma Bridge, a multibillion-dollar project south of Dhaka.
Since January this year, 43 people have been lynched on the pretext of purging suspected child abductors, according to Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, a local human rights group.
Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, told BenarNews that the mob attacks reflected the weakness of the Bangladeshi judicial system.
“The lengthy judicial process in Bangladesh has made people frustrated about the judiciary,” he said. “People hardly get justice from courts.”