Bangladeshi police have shot dead at least 112 suspected dealers since the middle of May in an all-out war on drugs, the nation’s home minister said Tuesday, the day a dozen suspects died in alleged gunfights during anti-narcotics operations.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews that the police campaign would go on as long as necessary. Along with those killed, police have arrested more than 9,000 drug suspects since the campaign began on May 14.
Bangladesh media reported that one suspect also drowned while fleeing police. Authorities did not provide figures of police injuries or deaths.
“The ongoing operation is an all-out war on drugs. This operation will go on,” Khan said.
“There is no thought that it will go on only until the Eid (al-Fitr) or the election,” he said, referring to the three-day celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting. “It will continue until the drug menace comes under control.”
Members of the opposition party and rights activists who fear that the violence could spiral into a Philippine-style campaign of mass killings, described the deaths as summary executions.
But Kahn said officers had the right to shoot in self-defense.
The drugs were destroying Bangladesh youths, he said.
“One drug addict teenage girl even killed her police officer father and mother. The government must control drug menace at any cost,” he said, emphasizing there was no political motive in the killings.
“They propagate many false allegations,” he said, referring to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). “This campaign is for protecting the youth – it has no ambiguity.”
Khan blamed a surging trade in yaba – cheap stimulants containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine – coming from neighboring Myanmar. Authorities estimate about 300 million yaba pills entered Bangladesh last year.
“We do not get necessary support from Myanmar,” Khan said.
Intelligence agencies provide list of alleged drug dealers
A home ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity told BenarNews that intelligence agencies had sent districtwide lists of suspected drug dealers to the home ministry.
Police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) officers have used those lists during the campaign.
“We are conducting the operation according to a list of drug dealers. No one is being spared. Some people from our party were also killed in the operation,” Khan said.
Spokeswoman Soheli Ferdous said on Tuesday that police would not release a list of those killed in the campaign.
More than 9,000 people have been arrested on drug-related charges since May 14, she told BenarNews.
Police also confiscated 1.7 million yaba tablets, 2,286 kilograms of marijuana, 55,000 liters of illicitly produced liquor and 23 kilograms of heroin, along with contraband and illegal weapons carried by drug dealers, Soheli said.
Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, a member of opposition BNP’s highest policy-making standing committee, criticized the anti-drug crackdown.
“This is not a campaign against drugs. The way people are being killed in the crossfire is extrajudicial killings,” he said, alleging that drug masterminds were being spared.
“The police could have gotten information about the patrons of the drug dealers from the people killed,” Hossain said.
“People think the government wants to create panic in the country in the pretext of anti-drug operation ahead of the national elections. We think this operation has a political purpose. The main objective is to maintain power in the next general election,” he said.
Nur Khan Liton, former executive director of rights body Ain-O-Shalish Kendra, also lambasted the government for the killings.
“The duty of the state is to protect the rights of its all citizens. We have been urging the government not to allow law enforcers to kill people in this way,” he said.
Liton said the campaign should end immediately.
“Otherwise, democracy will not stand,” he said.