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A drug war that goes haywire

  • Published at 12:00 am January 27th, 2019
Still a thriving trade MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

If the big names in the yaba trade go unscathed, this drug war will remain questionable

Thanks to recorded audio clips of a rather accidental mobile conversation, many of us heard a heart-rending scream in a female voice exactly eight months ago. “The commissioner has not done anything … Why are you killing him?” 

Repeating these words, a female voice kept screaming over a mobile phone moments after hearing a gunshot during a phone call.

It takes great courage to swim against the wave. When the entire administration portrayed it as yet another regulation case of “crossfire” -- it was Ayesha Begum, wife of slain Teknaf municipality councillor Ekramul Haque, who presented before a packed press conference some audio clips to corroborate her claim that Ekram’s was a murder and not a case of drug-war “crossfire.” 

Braving intimidation, she held the press brief on the last day of May 2018, five days after Ekram got killed in a questionable circumstance. She gave reporters four audio clips of chilling conversations, raising allegations of cold-blooded murder of her husband.  

According to media reports, one of the audio clips has this exchange recorded: 

“Aren’t you involved?” said an unidentified voice.

“No,” replied another voice.

After a few seconds, the sound of pulling back the hammer of a gun was heard. Then a gunshot rang out. What followed was the groaning of a man. As the groaning continued for a few seconds, Ekram’s wife and two daughters on the other side of the phone screamed and begged for his life, saying he was innocent, according to the audio clip. 

Terming it a planned killing, Ayesha demanded judicial probe into the incident, and urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to ensure justice for “the killing of one of her dedicated supporters.”

Our state promised Ayesha a proper probe into the incident. Eight months passed by -- several hundred other alleged drug dealers got killed in so-called “crossfire” incidents but nothing has been made public since then on what exactly the government found out after that promised probe was carried out. People even don’t know for sure whether or not any probe has been done.  

After several years of the thriving yaba trade under the very nose of the country’s poorly manned narcotic administration, the government thought it would be a good idea to wage a “war on drugs” in early May last year, that saw thousands of alleged drug dealers imprisoned thereby, putting Bangladesh’s already crammed jails to a new capacity test. 

In the first two months of the so-called drug war, over 200 people got killed in “crossfire” incidents -- which in many cases were in agonizingly similar circumstances, reflecting poorly upon law enforcers’ capacity to protect their captures. Rights bodies from home and abroad including the UN asked Bangladesh for restraint and encouraged it to eschew extra-judicial killings, but to no avail.       

The so-called “drug war” has now come to a stage when we’re getting to see no respite in the “crossfire” spree with alleged petty drug dealers getting killed routinely, but at the same time, known druglords are taking shelter at police “safe homes” in Cox’s Bazar with a hope of “surrendering.” 

Three persons got killed in Cox’s Bazar alone on Thursday January, 24, when the yaba “big fish” -- those who enjoy political blessings -- are leading a life free from the anxiety of “crossfire” deaths.

It’s not understandable -- under what mandate a galaxy of close relatives of a law-maker’s family, widely perceived and listed as yaba godfathers, not only succeeded remaining out of the drug war dragnet, but also enjoyed the liberty of living in police protection. 

There was no formal government announcement (as of January 24) of any move to allow yaba dealers an opportunity to surrender though police officials telling media unofficially that it’s going to happen soon. 

A drug war launched eight months ago now appears to go haywire with no credible probe commissioned in any of the extra-judicial deaths centring this drive, and no punishment meted out to known yaba godfathers -- who continue to enjoy protection thanks to their political clout. 

If some recent media reports are something to go by, the big names in the yaba trade who managed to leave the country and are living lavishly abroad ever since the May 2018 drug war was waged, are now coming back home from their Dubai and Abu Dhabi hideouts.

Many of them are now in the hospitality of police-run safe homes in Cox’s Bazar in preparation for a planned “surrender” ceremony.

If they go unscathed, this drug war will remain questionable, and the cry for justice from the families of 466 people who lost their lives in drug raids over the past eight months will get louder.

Reaz Ahmad is Executive Editor of the Dhaka Tribune.