Top Rohingya Leader Gunned Down at Refugee Camp in Bangladesh

Abdur Rahman, Sunil Barua and John Bechtel
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, and Washington
Top Rohingya Leader Gunned Down at Refugee Camp in Bangladesh U.S. President Donald Trump meets with survivors of religious persecution, including Rohingya activist Muhib Ullah (second from right) at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2019.

Md. Muhib Ullah, a prominent Rohingya activist who represented his community in international settings including at the United Nations and the White House, was shot dead by unidentified gunmen Wednesday night at a refugee camp in southeastern Bangladesh, police confirmed.

At least five men gunned down the Rohingya leader at close range after bursting into his office at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar, said Naimul Haque, commanding officer of the Armed Police Battalion Unit-14.

“Primarily, we suspect that members of a rival group killed the Rohingya leader who was very active over the issue of repatriation. The other Rohingya group is against repatriation,” Haque told BenarNews without naming it.

“The miscreants shot at least five rounds targeting Muhib Ullah,” Naimul said.

The victim, who served as chairman of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, was rushed to a hospital where he was pronounced dead at about 8:30 p.m. (local time), the police spokesman said.

Syed Ullah, secretary for the organization, said his colleague was killed because of his work for the Muslim minority group.

“The miscreants are trying to stop the voices of the people who are talking about the rights of Rohingya,” he told BenarNews.

In response to the shooting, officers were deployed to search for the killers in the camps in and around Cox’s Bazar that house 1 million Rohingya refugees near the Myanmar border, said Rafiqul Islam, an additional police superintendent in Cox’s Bazar.

Muhib Ullah, 50, was among about 740,000 stateless Rohingya Muslims who crossed into the southeastern Bangladeshi district four years ago as they fled a brutal offensive launched by Myanmar’s military in their home state of Rakhine in August 2017.

Over time, he became a popular leader among the Rohingya people because of his initiatives to ensure their rights.

In August 2019, he organized a massive rally at Kutapulong to mark the second anniversary of the exodus.

One month earlier, he told then-U.S. President Donald Trump about his concerns for Rohingya in Bangladesh. He met Trump at the Oval Office during a meeting about international religious freedom hosted by the State Department at the White House.

In December 2019, BenarNews reported that Muhib Ullah had been receiving death threats in recent months. In addition, a police spokesman said he had been missing since the August rally and his group’s office had been closed.

After he was gunned down, other Rohingya leaders said he had escaped previous assassination attempts.

One refugee leader, Muhammad Rafiq, said Muhib Ullah spoke out for others.

“The popular Rohingya leader represented our community at the United Nations in Geneva and at the White House in Washington,” Rafiq told BenarNews. He called Muhib Ullah’s killing a great loss for the community.

Rohingya activist Md. Muhib Ullah checks data from other refugees about alleged abuses by Myanmar soldiers, at his office at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Bangladesh, July 19, 2018. [AFP]

In the hours after he was killed, tributes to Muhib Ullah poured in from abroad, particularly from human rights advocacy groups.

“This is terrible. Muhib Ullah provided crucial leadership to the #RohingyaRefugees in Bangladesh, repeatedly saying that they want to go home, but with dignity and safety. He always thanked the Bangladeshi people for providing refuge, but also asked for rights protections,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, tweeted.

Matthew Smith, co-founder and CEO of Fortify Rights, said Muhib Ullah was not properly protected by Bangladesh authorities.

“Militants in the refugee camps in #Bangladesh had threatened Muhib Ullah’s life before, forcing him into hiding at times. He never received the protection he needed and deserved,” Smith tweeted.

Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, called on Bangladesh’s government to expedite the investigation and to have fair trials for those suspected of the killing.

“Muhib Ullah was a leading representative of the Rohingya community, who spoke out against violence in the camps and in support of the human rights and protection of refugees. His killing sends a chilling effect across the entire community,” Hammadi said in a news release.  

“Violence in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar has been a growing problem. Armed groups operating drug cartels have killed people and held hostages. The authorities must take immediate action to prevent further bloodshed.”   

The United Nations relief agency, UNHCR, noted its sadness over Muhib Ullah’s death.

“We are in continuous contact with law enforcement authorities in charge of maintaining peace and security in the camps,” a UNHCR spokeswoman told news media.


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