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Dhaka Tribune

Police working to limit use of firearms before polls

A special nationwide drive was conducted in September to recover illegal arms

Update : 11 Nov 2018, 02:04 AM

Law enforcement agencies are working on limiting the use of firearms to help maintain the peace during the upcoming 11th parliamentary election. 

The Election Commission (EC) has already tasked the authorities concerned with conducting a countrywide drive to recover illegal firearms once the election schedule has been announced. 

Police and the security services are on high alert to prevent any untoward incidents, especially by keeping a close eye on potential troublemakers.

“We will continue the operations throughout the year, without limiting them to any day or week, so that no illegal weapons are used,” the director general of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Benazir Ahmed, recently said. 

“Even after the election, RAB’s operations will continue.”

Law enforcement agencies have already conducted one nationwide drive, recovering 471 firearms and 937 bullet cartridges from September 1-18. 

According to police headquarters, 307 people were arrested and 212 cases have been filed against them.

“We conduct drives to recover arms throughout the year (and) the September operation was part of the regular drive,” Police Headquarters Assistant Inspector General (Media) Sohel Rana told the Dhaka Tribune.

“Law enforcement agencies are also engaged in maintaining law and order. During the election, the agencies will adhere to the instructions given by the EC to maintain law and order.”

September’s crackdown brought the number of cases filed under the Arms Act in the first nine months of this year to 1,872. Of those, 518 were filed in Chittagong range - the highest for any area in the country. Khulna range registered 296 cases; Dhaka range registered 224; and Rajshahi range registered 201 cases.

New crackdown ordered

On October 31, the Election Commission held a meeting with 23 ministries and departments at which the home ministry was asked to launch a countrywide drive to recover illegal firearms once the election schedule is known. 

The ministry’s Public Security Division was also instructed to take necessary steps against terrorists, drug addicts and target groups which may look to create anarchy ahead of the polls.

The Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) also held a meeting with the Election Commission on November 3 in this regard.

High officials of the police headquarters, including the inspector general of police, also recently held meetings with all deputy inspectors general of every single range and superintendents of police on the recovery of illegal firearms and maintaining law and order ahead of the election. 

Firearms factories 

According to members of law enforcement agencies, domestic criminal gangs are continuing to produce arms and ammunition at many small factories located in the remote hill areas of Cox’s Bazar’s Moheshkhali upazila.

Police and RAB discovered three such factories in Moheshkhali on July 22 and September 23 this year. 

During these drives, they seized 31 locally made firearms, many bullets and weapon manufacturing equipment. Three people were arrested.

On October 20, at a program organized by RAB at which scores of criminals surrendered their arms, law enforcers heard that many factories in Moheshkhali are manufacturing pirate weapons as well as homemade arms. 

“Moheshkhali has become a hub for arms manufacturing factories,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said. “We want to dismantle those structures. Our law enforcement agencies are engaged in doing that.”

Entry points

In addition, sources say many illegal firearms are still finding their way into Bangladesh from neighbouring countries.   

At a recent press briefing, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Director General Maj Gen Md Shafeenul Islam said: “We have been increasing our efforts in the last three months to stop the smuggling-in of illegal arms through the border.”

BGB seized 53 firearms between January 1 and September 9 but the smuggling continues through at least 25 entry points including Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, St Martin’s Island and Satkhira. 

This correspondent tried to contact the home minister by phone regarding this matter, but there was no response. 

What the law says

Section 17A (1) of the Arms Act 1878 allows the government to impose restrictions on the movement of any licensed firearms holder for a period notified in the official gazette, if this is deemed to be in the public interest.

Section 17A (2) of the act allows for the cancellation or suspension of the firearms license of any person carrying arms during the period of the national and local government elections.

Usually, the election period is defined as the date of submission of nomination papers until the date of the declaration of the result in the official gazette.

In addition, Section 78(1) of the Representation of the People Order 1972 says no person can show or use any arms or force during the period 48 hours prior to the start of the poll and 48 hours after conclusion of the poll. 

Anyone violating this provision can face a jail term of between two and seven years, plus a fine.  

Keeping all these provisions and the usual electoral trend in mind, law enforcement agencies have already bolstered their vigilance to prevent the use of illegal firearms and the illegal use of licensed arms.

“Nobody can guarantee that registered arms will not be used illegally,” the security analyst and former election commissioner and Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain told the Dhaka Tribune.  

“Law enforcement agencies should ensure that the (firearms) database is updated before the election. Legal firearms should be submitted to the law enforcement agencies in the interest of a free and fair election.” 

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