'Law enforcement agencies will detain criminals, but that has to be in line with the law. The incident in Teknaf needs to serve as an eye-opener'
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan on Saturday said a magistrate would be tasked with probing the killing of Teknaf municipality councillor Ekramul Haque in a so-called gunfight with security forces.
“If the magistrate finds any ill-motive behind the death of the municipality councilor, those responsible for this death will be brought to book,” he told a press conference at his Dhanmondi home in Dhaka in the afternoon.
“Nobody is above the law. Everyone will have to face punishment if he or she found guilty of committing crimes.”
Ekramul, an upazila-level leader of the ruling Awami League, was killed in a “shootout” with Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar on May 26, as the government launched an aggressive anti-narcotics crackdown which many criticize as unlawful and unacceptable.
RAB claimed Ekramul had been involved in drug peddling.
However, refuting the claim, the deceased’s wife Ayesha Begum alleged that he had been killed in cold blood, not in a gunfight as the elite paramilitary anti-crime taskforce claimed.
“On the night of May 26, an official of a security force took him by force from our home. My daughter and I talked to him over phone after he left us. When we talked to him last, he was panicking. The phone call continued and gunshots and shouts were heard. It was then I realized that my husband was killed in cold blood,” she told a press conference in Cox’s Bazar on Thursday.
Ayesha wanted a fair investigation into the killing of her husband and the intervention of the prime minister in the matter so no one would have to lose her or his dear ones in such “unjust actions.”
Also Read - Ekramul killing: What was in the audio clips?
She also gave reporters a total of four audio clips that recorded the terrifying conversations between Ekramul and his wife, and one of their two daughters right before he died in a hail of bullets.
The audio clips, recorded on a mobile phone, also captured sounds of gunfire and the groans of a dying man. Ekramul’s wife and two daughters can be heard screaming and begging for his life on the other end of the phone, saying he was innocent.
Pressed to comment on the clips, the minister said they had not yet received any complaint from the victim’s family.
“The audio clips have not been submitted to us officially yet. We will verify the clips and act accordingly,” he added.
RAB Additional Director General Anwar Latif Khan told the Dhaka Tribune that they too were verifying the clips and investigating the allegations Ekramul’s family had raised.
So far, over 130 people, mostly suspected drug peddlers, have been killed and around 13,000 others arrested since the anti-narcotics drives were launched early last month, according to media sources.
Voicing concerns over the crackdown and rising incidents of gunfights, noted human rights defender Nur Khan Liton said the audio clips made it clear that “Ekramul was killed in cold blood, and it was a premeditated murder by law enforcement agencies.”
“The growing incidents of gunfights and extrajudicial killings should be probed. The accountability of security forces could have been ensured had the government authorities concerned been careful and sincere following the sensational seven-murder incident in Narayanganj,” he said.
Reacting to a comment by Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader, who said on Saturday that “one or two mistakes may occur” in such a big drive, Nur said “there is no chance to avoid the liability for this unjustified action by terming it a mistake.”
“The people who are making such comments should also be brought to justice, because such actions are ultra vires and run counter to the constitution.”
Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh, said: “People welcome the anti-drug drive, because they do not want the menace to spread across our country. But, such drives must be conducted in accordance with the law. What happened in Cox’s Bazar is deplorable.
“Law enforcement agencies will detain criminals, but that has to be in line with the law. The incident in Teknaf needs to serve as an eye-opener.”
A three-time councillor of Teknaf municipality, Ekramul had been the president of the upazila chapter of Jubo League, the youth front of Awami League, for 12 years.
The son of late Abdus Sattar, he was also a member of the management committee of BGB Public School in Teknaf and the president of Teknaf Traders' Association.
“I know Ekramul very well as we are associated with the same political party. We have been involved in Awami League for quite a long time,” said Nurul Bashar, general secretary of the Teknaf upazila unit of the ruling party.
“A three-time municipality councillor and an honest man, Ekramul always believed in the ideals of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It’s unbelievable that he had been involved in drug peddling.”
He was buried at his family graveyard following a namaz-e-janaza on the premises of Teknaf Pilot School on May 27.
Several thousand people from all strata of society attended his funeral.