An exclusive report
by Radio Sweden claims it has evidence of how Bangladesh Police’s elite force RAB abducts and kills its targets.
In a secret conversation, a high-ranking officer reportedly exposed details about how the force selects which people to kill and their violent methods.
If you find him – shoot and kill him, wherever he is. And then plant a weapon beside him, the officer is quoted as saying. This is often the order, added the apparently high-ranking officer. The officer, who has been involved in dozens of killings, did not know that he was being recorded.
These are people who they suspect of serious crimes, but who they consider too difficult to convict in a trial, or impossible to rehabilitate.
The dialogue is in Bangla and “to protect our sources the translation was done in a country with no connection to the people involved,” the Radio Sweden report says.
During the conversation, the officer said how RAB kills selected targets when they least expect something to happen – people sitting at a tea stall or doing other things in their everyday life.
He says how the police take bribes from criminals. They use the money to buy weapons to plant next to the people they kill.
People seldom had weapons from the beginning. Planting evidence provides a motive for the killing, that the elite police force acted in self-defence, he explains.
This very sensitive recording is almost two hours long. The high-ranking elite police force officer is clearly repeating, over and over again, statements about killings and enforced disappearances conducted by RAB.
The special force was formed by the BNP-Jamaat government in 2004 to combat serious crimes including terrorism. Then opposition leader in parliament Sheikh Hasina, now the prime minister, had demanded disbanding the force due to use of excesses and extrajudicial killings of political opponents.
According to local and international rights groups, RAB was behind the abduction and murder of several hundred people, which they have never claimed responsibility for, and many extrajudicial killings, after which the targets were labelled as criminals in press statements.
Police say they investigate every incident of deaths of accused or suspect in custody and punish the law enforcers if found guilty.
But rights groups allege that the forces enjoy impunity for extrajudicial killings, and have repeatedly called for disbanding the “death squad.”
According to US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks, RAB was trained by the US and the UK on interrogation methods and human rights.
In January, 25 RAB members including three top officers of its Narayanganj unit were convicted for the abduction and murder of seven people including a ward councillor of the Narayanganj City Corporation in 2014.
Earlier RAB drew massive criticism for shooting a college student named Lemon Hossain, arresting him and filing false cases against him, when they failed to arrest a top criminal in Jhalakathi in 2011.
Between January 1 and March 14 this year, at least 51 people were killed in gunfights or crossfire across country. Of them, six were killed by RAB, according to a report by leading human rights watchdog Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK).
In 2016, at least 195 people were killed by the law enforcement officers. Of them, 55 were killed by RAB and one jointly by RAB and BGB.
'New revelation is shocking'
Amnesty International is monitoring the developments closely in Bangladesh.
The London-based organisation also has close contacts with the families of those killed, abducted and tortured by the elite police force.
Olof Blomqvist, the Bangladesh expert at Amnesty International in London, says that it is shocking to listen to the recording.
"It is incredibly chilling to hear someone speak so casually and coldly about carrying out these very serious human rights violations. Having said that, we have not been able to confirm these ourselves, but this is something that definitely needs to be investigated,” Olof Blomqvist says.
The experts consider the high-ranking officer very credible, with a good knowledge of many details. Radio Sweden has also used other means to verify the authenticity of the conversation.
“What we hear in this recording are statements that match a pattern of similar violations, which we at Amnesty International and many other human rights organisations have documented over several years, concerning the Rapid Action Battalion,” he adds.
After each incident where RAB has killed a person, there are several inquiries, according to the officer, such as how the bullets travelled.
The man's description provides a unique insight into a combined effort by the authorities into how the events are presented to journalists and the public in Bangladesh.
They use words such as “crossfire” and claim that RAB had been fired upon, and thereby acted in self-defence.
Amnesty says “crossfire killings” often is a euphemism for a murder.
RAB is often criticised over abductions, involving people that are caught and later found dead, or who never return home.
Three components of disappearances
The high-ranking officer describes three tricky components to enforced disappearances; to capture the target, to kill him and thirdly, the disposal of the body.
In the conversation, they talk about blocks of concrete being attached to bodies, before they are thrown into a river. The conversation using hard cold words is like a scene out of a horror film.
He describes how the police lie to their intended victims. They say they will drive them to a friend for safekeeping, but instead the police kill them.
The officers must be perfectionists and check on each other.
"Everyone is not an expert on forced disappearances.
“We have to make sure no clue is left behind. No ID cards that slip-off. We have to wear gloves; we can't leave footprints behind and have to wear covers on our shoes to prevent that. We can't smoke during these operations," the RAB officer says.
The high-ranking officer says people disappear like this every day. Also innocent people disappear, anyone can be killed in this way, he says. This can be a way of getting rid of political opponents and there are forces that want to remove a large number of people.
He expresses the opinion that this may be a way of controlling population growth. There are so many horrible details in the recording that our translator needs to go out several times, during the translation, for a breath of fresh air.
“Disappearances have skyrocketed since 2009, it is a very widespread problem. Very often, those who are killed or who disappear are activists, or people belonging to the political opposition. No one in the country is safe,” says Olof at Amnesty International.
“It is something that absolutely has to be looked into more. Quite often, in other cases, we see how authorities are able to use the judiciary to target political opponents or other critics. Unfortunately, the judiciary in Bangladesh has in some ways become a tool of oppression of the authorities”, he says.
Decisions on the fate of those taken by RAB are being made high up, the officer says. In this unique and sensitive recording, the RAB officer also gives examples of how people have been tortured.
He describes a dark room with a lamp in the middle where an arrested man was stripped naked.
They hung him in handcuffs, and tied bricks to his testicles. His testicles were almost ripped off by the weight, the officer says. The tortured man fell unconscious and the RAB officer says he did not know if the man was dead or alive.
Olof says: “Bangladesh has a fairly progressive anti torture law, on paper, the problem is that it is very rarely used in practice. Torture continues endemically and it is very rare that the people responsible are held to account.”
Only a few people from RAB have been brought to justice for serious human rights violations. Now Amnesty is calling for a full investigation and those responsible to be held to account.