Bangladesh: Nearly 8,200 Arrested in Nationwide Sweeps

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
2016.06.13
Dhaka
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160613-BD-police-roundup-620.jpg A Bangladeshi man arrested during a nationwide crackdown looks out of a prison van outside a court in Dhaka, June 13, 2016.
AFP

Bangladeshi authorities said Monday they were holding 8,192 suspects at jails nationwide after their arrests during a weeklong crackdown against militant groups and criminals, but the political opposition complained that many of its supporters were swept up in the operation.

Police launched the crackdown on Friday after suspected militants hacked and shot to death the wife of a top counter-terrorism police officer in Chittagong on June 5.

“We have arrested 8,192 criminals including 119 suspected militants,” Police Deputy Inspector-General (DIG) A.K.M. Shahidur Rahman told BenarNews on Monday.

The suspected militants belong to Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), Ansar al-Islam (the Bangladeshi wing of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent), Allahar Dal and other radical Islamic groups, and most of the suspects were still in jail because they have been denied bail, he said.

The crackdown was needed but its scale has raised concerns that it could violate people’s rights, according to Mizanur Rahman, chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

“In the wake of serious killings, people of all walks welcome the police crackdown on the militants and terrorists. But our fear is that human rights violations take place when herds of people are arrested,” Mizanur Rahman told BenarNews on Monday, pointing out that the courts had instructed police to respect the rights of the accused.

The commission has received complaints that police in many cases do not arrest the people who pay them money, but that officers arrest others on false charges who refuse to bribe them, he said.

“Our position is the police must stop such practices,” he said.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Dhaka on Monday, a senior leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party accused the ruling Awami League of arresting as many as 2,100 BNP activists and officials under the pretext of the anti-militant and anti-criminal crackdown.

“Instead of busting the militants’ hideouts, the police have been arresting innocent people. The purpose of such a crackdown is to suppress the opposition,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, the BNP’s senior joint secretary general, told reporters.

DIG Rahman rejected the opposition’s allegation.

“We launched several special drives against the criminals and militants. This is an ongoing process. The police are not arresting any innocent people. Only people with criminal records or facing warrant orders are being arrested,” the deputy inspector-general told BenarNews, adding that police had no information on the political affiliations of those taken into custody.

UN concerned over killings

The crackdown followed the killing of Mahmuda Akter, the wife of senior police officer Babul Akter, who had led raids that dismantled suspected JMB dens in the Chittagong area. Bangladeshi authorities suspected that JMB killed her in retaliation.

Akter’s killing took place amid a string of deadly attacks by suspected Islamic radicals who have targeted religious minorities, secular writers, gay-rights activists, intellectuals and others over the past three years.

Since February 2013, at least 36 people from these groups have been killed, mostly in machete-attacks by suspected Islamic militants, according to the Home Ministry.

On Monday, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the spate of killings in Bangladesh but called on police to respect human rights during their crackdown.

“I am very concerned about the dramatically increased number of brutal murders in Bangladesh that target freethinkers, liberals, religious minorities and LGBT activists,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva. “I note recent reports of police arrests, and I urge that investigating and prosecuting the perpetrators of these vicious crimes be made a priority, with full respect for human rights.

“I also urge all government officials and political and religious leaders to unequivocally condemn these attacks on freedom, and to do more to protect affected groups,” he said.

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