'There is a nexus between political power, law enforcement agencies, and drug traders who dominate the trade'
Leaders of major political parties outside the government have criticized the administration for what they describe as its 'gunfight strategy' in the crackdown on drugs.
They said that while a rigorous anti-drug drive would have their full support, the strategy of tackling the drug trade by gunning down suspected criminals in the name of ‘gunfights’ cannot help under any circumstances.
Condemning the killings, they urged the government to strictly enforce the law to contain drug trade and punish addicts and traders through proper legal action, instead of killing them extrajudicially.
At least 70 people have been killed during ‘gunfights’ with various law enforcement agencies and thousands held in ongoing nationwide anti-drug drives since May 15.
With a major focus on Yaba traders, the law enforcement agencies are raiding different places every day to nab suspected drug dealers.
Human rights organizations and political parties are saying the government raids have only targeted petty criminals while the drug kingpins remain out of reach.
BNP says its own activists, not drug dealers, are the main target of the anti-drug drives – a strategy to subdue the opposition before the upcoming national elections.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said at an event that the party supported a drive against drugs, but he urged the government to refrain from extrajudicial killings.
“The government should first arrest its own men who are involved with the drug trade in the country,” he said.
BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi claimed that the drive was a ploy to arrest BNP activists with false allegations.
“The government has so far arrested some petty criminals, while the godfathers remain out of reach,” he said.
Hussain Muhammad Ershad, chairman of Jatiya Party, the opposition in parliament, said that people are being killed indiscriminately in gunfights in the name of anti-drug drives.
“We do not know who they are, these people who are being killed.. The drug lord is in the parliament. Try him and hang him,” he said.
Ershad said every person has a constitutional right to get a fair trial so it was unacceptable to 'kill people' without trial in this manner.
Communist Party of Bangladesh President Mujahidul Islam Selim and General Secretary Md Shah Alam in a joint statement demanded that the government end all types of extrajudicial killings and urged strict implementation of laws to contain drugs.
The statement said extrajudicial killings will not solve the problem, since only lower level drug dealers are being killed. If the drive continues, it may lead to killing of political opponents, the statement said.
It urged the government to get to the source and supply line of the drug trade to prevent the drug menace.
Workers Party of Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon said the drive against drugs was necessary but killing people under the guise of gunfights was not the right approach.
“We need to unite people against drugs to make a solution. We need to break the supply chain – from where it comes to where it goes. Otherwise the main culprits will never be captured,” he said.
Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) leader Khaliquzzaman said there are no problems in eliminating drugs, but the problem is with the process the government is following.
“An atmosphere of fear has been created. People are losing faith in law and order as justice has been taken into police’s hand. This is committing a crime to fight another crime,” he said.
“The election is approaching and such incidents are not a positive indication. The main godfathers are sitting in the parliament. Killing the carriers may temporarily prevent the drug trade, but the key people will remain out of jail,” added the BSD leader.
Krishak Shramik Janata League President Abdul Kader Siddiqui said the drive is not serving its purpose as killing people cannot be a solution. Criminals need to be brought to justice in line with existing laws, he said.
“The government is resorting to this strategy to hide its administrative failures in combating drugs. This is not the solution. We need to focus on the root causes,” he added.
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Redwan Ahmed said there needs to be strict measures against the drug menace.
“Drugs have spread to rural areas via carriers, but the godfathers, who are high ups and influential people in the government, remain out of reach. If this strategy continues, we will have to kill thousands of carriers, but we cannot stop the drug trade if the godfathers cannot be captured,” he said.
Gana Sanghati Andolan Chief Coordinator Zonayed Saki said drugs are a serious problem in the society, but killing people extrajudicially with false stories of gunfights was unacceptable.
"The government is cheating the people by doing this. When the law enforcement is allowed to break the rules themselves, when they are allowed to kill people, that can never be acceptable," he said.
"There is a nexus between political power, law enforcement agencies, and drug traders who dominate the trade. If the government really has the political will to eliminate the problem, it shall first break the nexus. Arresting some street hawkers or drug distributors or killing them extrajudicially may bring some short-term popularity, but in the end, that will never bring any positive results," said Saki.
Bobby Hajjaj, chairman of Nationalist Democratic Movement said no matter what the reasons or context are, the nation can never support extrajudicial killings.
"No justification shall be made to justify extrajudicial killings," he said, strongly opposing the killings made in the name of anti-drug drive.
They can go to court
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JaSaD) faction President and Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said that if anyone who is innocent faces injustice or is killed, their families can go to court.
Ruling Awami League secretary general Obaidul Quader on Saturday said the government is maintaining a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs.
“Following that policy, police and Rapid Action Battalion have carried out drives against drug dealers. Certain quarters may not be happy with the anti-drug drives, but people of the country have expressed their satisfaction over the actions, because they think our young people are going astray due to substance abuse,” he claimed.
In reply to journalists’ query about the deaths of suspected drug peddlers in “gunfights” with security forces, the minister claimed: “Drug traders fire shots at law enforcers when the latter go to arrest them. Therefore, the law enforcers have to retaliate in self-defence. This is what is called ‘gunfight.”
Regarding the claims by many quarters on involvement of ruling party lawmaker from Cox’s Bazar 4 constituency Abdur Rahman Bodi with the drug trade, AL secretary general said Bodi will not be spared if he is found guilty of dealing drugs.
“If allegations against Bodi are proven, he will have to face punishment, just like his brother-in-law did. Drug traders will not be spared no matter which political party they are associated with,” he said.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on May 3 called on elite force Rapid Action Battalion to combat the drug trade in the same fashion as anti-militancy operations.
On May 24, Dhaka Metropolitan Police launched their crackdown on drug trafficking.