Over 350 people have been killed in year-long crackdown
A year ago, Teknaf Municipality Councillor, Ekramul Haque, was invited by security officials to discuss some issues. Within a few hours, he was found dead after a reported gunfight with Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Cox’s Bazar.
RAB said the municipality councillor, who was also at the time an upazila-level leader of the ruling Awami League, was killed in a gunfight during an anti-narcotics crackdown, which many criticize as unlawful and unacceptable.
Six days after the death of Ekramul, his wife Ayesha Begum, held a press conference in Cox’s Bazar, where she said her husband was killed in cold blood, not in a gunfight as the security forces claimed.
Ayesha also gave reporters a total of four audio clips that she said were recordings of conversations between Ekram and herself and one of their 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.
Ayesha said the conversations were recorded when Ekramul was brutally shot dead.
Dhaka Tribune, however, could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio clips.
Ekramul is one of the over 350 people killed in anti-narcotics drives launched in May of 2018 in Bangladesh.
Although the drive officially began on May 4, the first death was reported on May 19.
Since the government's zero tolerance policy and the war against drugs was announced last year, security officials routinely arrested drug peddlers and many were killed in reported gunfights.
When the drives began, family members of most of the arrested said plain-clothes policemen picked up their family members, who were later shown arrested, and many were shown killed in alleged shootouts.
Although 102 people surrendered at a ceremony in February this year, most of the kingpins and drug lords remain at large.
Can a single mass surrender end yaba menace?
Yaba has been entering into Bangladesh mainly from Myanmar. It enters through the border areas of Teknaf and Cox's Bazar and then spreads throughout the country.
Because of the trade booming in the area, most godfathers belong to that area, building their empires and operating their syndicates.
Local authorities have demolished the luxury homes of some top-level yaba traders, but most of them are still at large.
On February 16 of 2019, a total of 102 yaba traders and drug kingpins surrendered at a ceremony in Teknaf of Cox's Bazar. Although people thought this would be a continuous process as part of ending the drug menace, it ended with a single mass surrender.
Security officials say drug trading will not end only with the surrender of drug lords, but they are a source of divulging important information from which further drives can be conducted.
According to police sources, the Home Ministry, and the Department of Narcotics Control, at least 24 of 73 listed "big traders" surrendered on February 16. Those who surrendered include four brothers, a cousin and a nephew of former Cox's Bazar4 lawmaker, Abdur Rahman Bodi.
Six of the listed 49 drug traders were killed in alleged gunfights, while another 43 did not surrender. Even Bodi, who topped the list, did the same. Saiful Karim, who was number two on the list, remains untraced ever since the surrendering process began.
Another much-hyped drug trader,Zafar Ahmed, has been roaming freely. His son, Shahjahan, who is the chairman of Teknaf Union Parishad, and a listed trader, is also yet to surrender.
There are allegations that the associates of those who have surrendered have kept the business going full swing.
Most of those who surrendered in February were small scale traders. At least 20 to 25 yaba godfathers, who have not surrendered, are still in the open. And the associates of hose who have surrendered, have continued their yaba trading with a change of strategy.
Breaking the supply chain imperative
Noted human rights defender, Nur Khan Liton, also former executive director of Ain O Shalish Kendra, says some of the traders have surrendered, but what will happen regarding the cases filed against them is not yet clear.
“It is impossible to stop such a prevalent crime through surrenders or police raids. Public awareness is also crucial to this end. The main source of yaba smuggling needs to be eradicated. If not, it will never be possible to control yaba peddling,” he suggested.
Local and police sources said yaba pills now enter Bangladesh by sea and inland maritime routes in Bhola, Patuakhali, and Barisal, avoiding the popular routes of Teknaf and Cox's Bazar.
In addition to regular drug peddlers, Rohingya people are also being used to spread the pills.
More than 50 Rohingyas have so far been arrested for yaba peddling in Cox's Bazar.
On May 20, Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) arrested three women with 3,150 yaba pills.
Meanwhile, Airport Armed Police Battalion (APBN) arrested a man with 800 yaba pills from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on March 23. He was carrying the pills in his stomach.
On March 12, the BGB arrested three people for smuggling yaba in a rather innovative way inside a Quran, in Teknaf’s Baroitoly area.
According to the APBN, 63,898 yaba pills were seized between July 2018 and January 2019, and 26 cases were filed.
The Coast Guard recovered more than 100,000 yaba pills abandoned on Saint Martin’s Island on May 19, with an estimated value of Tk7 crore.
According to the RAB, 10 million yaba pills were recovered between May 4, 2018, and May 18 this year. In that period, some 24,898 people were also arrested and 109 people were killed in reported shootouts with RAB.
Cox's Bazar District Superintendent of Police, BM Masud Hossain, told Dhaka Tribune that there is no scope to see the mass surrender negatively.
"Drug traders began to cooperate with the police after the surrender. But they will have to face trials in the cases filed against them," he said.
"We have got a lot of information from them, including names," he added.
SP Masud: "For those who surrender, it will be better if they fulfill the conditions, or action will be taken against them."
Police officials said those who surrendered have done it after complying with certain conditions.
Regarding the matter, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said:"We have zero tolerance for narcotics. And surrender is a process to stop drug trading. If any drug dealer is interested to surrender, it will be appreciated. We will see about their cases, but it will be done through a legal process.”