Bangladesh High Court orders govt inquiry into death in RAB custody

BenarNews staff
Dhaka and Washington
Bangladesh High Court orders govt inquiry into death in RAB custody Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) personnel conduct a security search on the premises of the National Martyrs’ Memorial in Dhaka, Feb. 20, 2023.

Bangladesh’s High Court on Wednesday in a rare move ordered the government to conduct an inquiry into the March 24 death of a woman in the custody of the Rapid Action Battalion security force, which Washington in 2021 sanctioned for human rights violations.

RAB was also this week the subject of a documentary by German news organization Deutsche Welle and Sweden-based Netra News that said it found the force committed “systematic human rights violations,” including torture and extrajudicial killings, with impunity. The Bangladesh government denied these allegations as “fictitious, fabricated and politically motivated.”

The Bangladesh High Court issued its order Wednesday on a writ petition filed by lawyer Manoj Kumar Bhowmick who said that Sultana Jesmin, 42, the woman who died in RAB custody, had been detained March 22 in the northwestern Naogaon district without an arrest warrant.

“After the hearing, the court passed an order to the government to form a high-powered [inquiry] committee embodying a chief judicial magistrate and a district judge,” Bhowmick told reporters.

“The order set 60 days to finish the investigation and asked the government to withdraw the RAB members who detained and interrogated Sultana Jesmin for a fair investigation,” he said.

Additionally, the court issued a rule to the government questioning why the arrest of Sultana Jesmin without a warrant should not be declared illegal, Bhowmick said.

The attorney general was asked whether the state would appeal before the Supreme Court against the High Court order and rule.

“We will discuss the matter and decide about it,” Bhowmick said.

Nazmul Haque Montu, a maternal uncle of Sultana Jesmin, told BenarNews that her family welcomed the court order.

“We have not filed any case about my niece’s death in RAB custody. But we want to have faith in the court order for investigation,” he said.

“If she had committed any crime, she could be tried according to the law. But whisking her away while she was on her way to her office was not a lawful practice.”

RAB’s targets are usually picked up late at night “and whisked away to the special police force’s facilities,” according to an article on Deutsche Welle’s website on April 4.

One alleged RAB victim told the documentary makers that he was beaten and waterboarded.

Two men, said to be RAB whistleblowers, alleged that those people targeted for execution are taken to a pre-selected deserted site late at night, shot and left to bleed to death.

The so-called whistleblowers also said that RAB often conducts targeted extrajudicial killings on orders from senior officials. 

At the end of 2021, the United States imposed targeted sanctions against several commanders of RAB. It accused the unit of more than 600 enforced disappearances in the past 12 years, a similar number of extrajudicial killings, and the use of torture.

Last month, the U.S. State Department said extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh fell to 25 or fewer in 2022 from as many as 80 the previous year, with analysts crediting the sanctions for the decline.


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