Bangladesh police on Friday ended a week-long security crackdown amid bitter complaints that due process had been thrown aside.
“The operation has been finished; our police force arrested 194 militants in the current spell. Besides, we have arrested a big number of criminals across the country,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews on Friday.
A police statement on Wednesday said over 11,000 suspects had been arrested in the crackdown thus far. Police stopped releasing overall figures thereafter.
The operation was launched June 10 following the brutal murder of the wife a counter-terrorism police officer in Chittagong.
Suspected militants have hacked to death at least 36 people in Bangladesh, including bloggers, secularists, LGBT activists, teachers and members of minority religious groups since February 2013, and Bangladesh has come under international criticism for failing to prevent or solve those murders.
On Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a statement urging Bangladesh authorities to focus on investigating the killings.
“After a slow and complacent response to these horrific attacks, Bangladesh’s security forces are falling back on old habits and rounding up the ‘usual suspects’ instead of doing the hard work of carrying out proper investigations,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director.
“The government has an obligation to put an end to these murders and hold the perpetrators to account, but it must do so through proper procedures set out in its own criminal code as well as in international law.”
‘We have not arrested a single innocent person’
Meanwhile, opposition leaders claimed thousands of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) members had been arrested in the sweep. BNP Joint Secretary Ruhul Kabir Rizvi put the number at 3,000, according to media reports.
“The police have resorted to its old practice of arresting the leaders and activists of the opposition parties in the pretext of detaining the real criminals. Most of the people arrested in the drive are innocent opposition political workers and common people,” Mahbubur Rahman, a member of the BNP’s standing committee, told BenarNews.
Khan rejected the allegations.
“We have not arrested a single innocent person. All the people arrested are either wanted in cases or have criminal records,” he said.
He said the 194 arrested militants were from banned groups such as Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) Hizbut Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, and Allahar Dal.
On Friday, he added, police picked up two former aides of JMB’s notorious Bangla Bhai from the port city of Chittagong. They were identified as Zulfiqar Ali, 40, and Md Alauddin, 31.
Siddiqul Islam, also known as Bangla Bhai, established a reign of terror in the greater Rajshahi area, openly executing people and the hanging them upside down. He was executed in March 2007 for terror attacks in different parts of the country.
Professor Mizanur Rahman, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, told BenarNews that police should not call people criminals unless they had been found guilty in court.
“Unless someone is convicted in court, she or he must not be branded as criminals,” he said.
He said he had visited the overcrowded Dhaka central jail on Thursday and found conditions there “inhuman.”