On February 13 this year, Atikur Rahman, a BBA student of a private college in Mirpur, was returning home to Rampura after finishing his tuition when he was suddenly intercepted by a police patrol team.
At one point of the interrogation, the police officers asked Atikur how much money he had.
When Atikur wanted to know why they were asking about money, the policemen started to abuse him verbally and claimed that he had yaba tablets in his pocket.
The officers then checked his pockets and produced a few yaba tablets, baffling the young student. They insisted he give them money, or get arrested.
“I told the law enforcers that since I am a student, I do not have a huge amount of money,” Atikur said. “I was released only after paying them Tk500.”
Like Atikur, many people are falling prey to police harassment. A common practise is for law enforcers or their sources to extort money from innocent people by planting yaba pills somewhere on their person.
Advocate Alena Khan, a human rights activist and the chief executive of Bangladesh Human Rights Foundation, said such corrupt police officers are flouting rules concerning searches on members of the public.
“Police cannot touch anybody without their permission,” she said. “In developed countries, police ask people to open bags on their own. If they need to search anybody, they take permission from them.
“But in our country, police search different parts of the body of a person or their bags without following the rule.”
Alena said it was typical for corrupt law enforcers to insert yaba into the pocket or bag of unsuspecting search targets, usually at night.
“Common people are being arrested and harassed instead of nabbing the real drug peddlers, which is not acceptable,” she said. “Police top brass should pay attention to the matter.”
Photojournalist Ashik Ahmed was arrested on charges of possessing yaba after protesting harassment at a police checkpoint in Shantinagar on June 27, 2017.
His family complained that police had made a false case against him after failing to extort the money they demanded. The police, however, denied the allegation and sent Ashik to jail.
Now out on bail, Ashik said he has been framed in a false case.
“I heard stories of similar incidents from people,” he said. “The victims said they got out of the trap by paying police immediately.”
The corrupt police officers cannot always execute their extortion plans to perfection, however. Sometimes they are themselves caught and beaten by mob while trying to harass people.
Last year, Sub-Inspector Shamim Akhter and Constable Sirajul Islam, of Jashore Sadar Upazila Kotwali police station, were beaten by a mob while they were trying to frame people with yaba tablets in two separate incidents.
Later, the two police members were withdrawn and temporarily taken off duty.
In a similar incident in Jatrabari in Dhaka on August 12, 2017, two police sources were caught while trying to extort money from a businessman by threatening to put yaba in his pocket. Other police officers came to their sources’ rescue and took them to the station.
The country’s top police officials are reported to be “concerned and embarrassed” over the activities of corrupt police members. Such incidents have raised questions as to the professionalism of the police, and caused the public to lose faith in the integrity of the service.
There are already allegations of serious crimes such as murder, extortion, abduction and hijacking against the police. Yaba has become a new tool of extortion and harassment.
“Police are playing an important role in drug control programs (and) have brought a lot of drug dealers under the law,” Sahely Ferdous, assistant inspector general (media) of police headquarters, told the Dhaka Tribune.
“But if any police member is found doing such a crime, we will not take responsibility for that. When we receive any complaint we take action against the related police official following an investigation.”