The grisly discovery of three rape suspects in Bangladesh who were killed in apparent vigilante attacks since mid-January is spurring a debate and drawing attention to a dismal record by law enforcers to bring victims of sexual crimes to justice.
In all three separate slayings, the killer or killers left notes tied to the dead men’s necks. They’d all been named as suspects in rape complaints filed with police.
But in the case of the latest extrajudicial killing, the message carried a warning and identified the vigilante by the name of a mythical Greek hero.
“I am Rakib. I am the rapist of a madrassa girl ... of Bhandaria. This is the consequence of a rapist. Be wary, rapists: Hercules,” read the note attached to the body found in southern Jhalakathi district on Feb. 1. The corpse, which belonged to Rakib Mollah, was found near a brick kiln in Rajapur.
The mysterious killings first came to light when police recovered the body of a garment worker identified as Ripon, in Savar, near the capital city, Dhaka, on Jan. 17. Savar is about 260 km (161 miles) from Jhalakathi.
The note tied around Ripon’s neck read “I am the prime accused in a rape case.”
Ten days earlier, an 18-year-old garment worker was found dead inside her house, hours after she had filed a rape complaint against Ripon and three other co-workers.
On Jan. 26, the body of Sajal Jamaddar, who was accused with Rakib of raping a 13-year-old two weeks before, was found in a paddy field in Jhalakathi.
“I met this fate for raping a madrassa student,” said the note tied around Sajal’s neck. A madrassa is an Islamic boarding school.
Law enforcement agencies have not identified the vigilante or determined if just one person is responsible.
“It is not clear to police, who are involved behind this kind of secret killings. We are trying to identify them,” Assistant Police Inspector-General Shohel Rana told BenarNews.
Meanwhile, the families of the dead men said they were picked up or pursued by police investigating the rape allegations.
Rana denied the families’ allegations.
“Cases have been filed after each of the incidents. Police have been investigating the cases, but we cannot say anything before the investigation is complete,” Rana said.
At least 79 rape incidents including 22 gang rapes occurred in January, the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (Bangladesh Women’s Council), a local NGO, told reporters.
A fifth-grader was raped in Rajbari, in Dhaka district, on Jan. 18, the day after Rakib’s body was discovered, and an 8-year-old was raped the next day, according to police.
The January figures are on target with the number for 2018 – 732 – as reported by Dhaka-based human rights group Ain O Salish Kendra. In contrast, Bangladeshi police report that 19,000 rape cases, many involving children, were filed in the last five years.
Justice, however, has been hard to come by for rape victims in Bangladesh because only 3 percent of those accused were found guilty in court and sentenced, according to Dhaka newspaper Prothom Alo.
‘You are to die for raping’
The killings have created a buzz among human rights advocates and on social media as supporters and opponents of the vigilantes are speaking out.
“There is nothing to be delighted with the emergence of Hercules. This kind of secret killing cannot make anything better. It is a cunning tactic to get support from a section of people,” said Mizanur Rahman, the former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
“There are fears from two sides. Firstly, the judicial process is being totally evaded in this way. Secondly, the body of a person is saying, ‘I am rapist,’ though he was not proved guilty in any court,” Rahman told BenarNews.
But film producer Afzal Hossain Munna, who started a Facebook campaign “I stand for women,” last year, supported the vigilantism on behalf of rape victims.
“Whether it may be in a uniform or a plain-clothed Hercules, it is urgent to spread the message: You are to die for raping,” he posted on Feb. 1.
Women said they want to see people accused of rape arrested and prosecuted in a court of law.
A feminist writer who had to flee her home over threats from Islamic fundamentalists was among those calling for proper justice.
“I was against extrajudicial killing and will continue to say no to extrajudicial killing. Rapists must be produced before courts of justice,” Chaity Ahmed said.
Salma Ali agreed, telling BenarNews that killing rapists and tying notes around their necks would not contribute to curbing rapes.
“Do these incidents show that the rape suspects are committing suicide, leaving behind notes of confession? These are simply murders. I want all these incidents to be investigated properly,” said Ali, executive director of the Bangladesh Women Lawyers’ Association.
“If it continues, innocents may be made victims to hide the real rapists.”