Zero Tolerance’ against what

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“The commissioner has not done anything .... Why are you killing him?”

 

Repeating these words, a female voice kept screaming over a mobile phone moments after hearing a gunshot during a phone call.

Two months shouldn’t be good enough time for us to forget that it was Ayesha Begum, wife of slain Teknaf municipality councillor Ekramul Haque, who presented before a packed press conference some audio clips to corroborate her claim that Ekram’s was a murder and not a case of drug-war ‘crossfire’.

But these two months – since Ekram got killed in a questionable circumstance – should be reasonably a good time for government to verify the authenticity of the audio clips the devastated family of the slain public representative had presented.

Over the past several weeks since the May 27 ‘gunfight’ death of Ekramul Haque, the current spate of ‘war on drugs’ has been going great guns – with the number of ‘gunfight’ deaths crossing 200-threshold and still counting and Bangladesh’s 68 jails crammed with arrested alleged drug dealers.

Department of Prisons said the country’s 68 jails have the total capacity of accommodating 36,614 prisoners. Our minister in charge of cabinet committee on law and order let us know last week that 37,225 people were arrested till July 18 in the drives against narcotics across the country since the early May beginning of a ‘war on drugs’. The catch itself exceeds the holding capacity of the country’s prisons. Currently there are 89,589 inmates in jails, and 42 percent of them have been arrested during the anti-drug drives. Such huge overflow of prisoners – much beyond the holding capacities of the jails – itself is a big human rights concern that we can ill afford to ignore.

Politicians and concerned government functionaries kept parroting all the while that each and every death caused by ‘crossfire/gunfight/shootout’ is probed thoroughly. Five days after the tragic death of Ekramul, who happened to be a ruling party leader too, successfully quenched public outcry against such ‘gunfight killings’ by declaring that a magistrate has been appointed to look into the ‘shady circumstances’ that led to the death of Teknaf municipal ward councilor. He also assured that the magistrate would investigate and then submit a report based on his findings, after which appropriate steps would be taken by his ministry. On top of it we had a minister and ruling party spokesman heard declaring that the killers of councilor Ekramul Haque would be brought to justice if he had no complicity in drug peddling.

With thousands of people caged and some 200 others killed in so called ‘gunfights’ either with law enforcers or with ‘rival drug dealers’ in less than three months’ time since the start of ‘war on drugs’ – it is worth revisiting the whole episode of drug-war to see where the actual rots happen. It’s now a common knowledge in the drug dealing circuit that a section of law enforcers’ direct/indirect complicity with drug trade largely facilitates the trafficking and illicit trading of yaba and other narcotic substances in the country. Newspapers are abuzz with reports that how a section of corrupt policemen play dubious roles behind the thriving trade of narcotic substances. It was just other day a popular vernacular daily had it loud and clear on its front-page lead story that how policemen in a drug-route district in southeastern Bangladesh allegedly sold out a huge stash of yaba that had been seized from drug traffickers earlier. The media further reported that though the incident was found to be true in official probe, the law enforcers in question remained unscathed. In our ‘war on drugs’ cleansing must begin at home. ‘Zero Tolerance’ is a term politicians often love to use and overuse but ‘zero tolerance’ against what – it has to be demonstrated so that public trust is built. Public need to see government’s determination to the extent where state’s forces’ members are not spared if and when found guilty of drug trafficking.

Since the government embarked on a ‘war on drugs’ in early May there has been two or three ‘gunfight’ killings a day, on average – and law enforcers wanting us to believe that the fallen ones were all drug criminals and got killed by falling on the line of fire during brief skirmishes. These telltale narratives become somewhat a cliché now. More dangerous phenomenon is a kind of ‘media fatigue’ in reporting these ‘gunfight killings’ – as days passing by these stories are becoming mundane, routine. There is hardly ever any effort to reach out to the ‘victims’ families, friends and communities to check/counter-check the spoon-fed narratives.

A few days after Ekramul’s death, his widow gave reporters four audio clips of chilling conversations, raising allegations of cold-blooded murder of her husband. Media could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio clips. Not necessarily it’s a mandate of media. State surely has a big role here to play. State must ensure through exhaustive and authentic probes that “it was not a murder but a ‘genuine’ gunfight death” – and reassure its citizens that taxpayers’ money is not being spent on forces that tend to kill people on the basis of wrong leads, if not deliberately. Two months after the questionable death of Ekramul, people in this country are still being made to witness more ‘gunfight’ deaths. After months of students’ movement people, at least, came to know that a government-constituted body will require 90 additional working days to come up with a ‘quota reform’ report as against initial sanction of 15-day time for the task. But people are in complete dark about the magisterial probe into the Ekramul’s death. What’s the timeframe, how long the magistrate will take to complete the probe and when the slain councillor’s family and people of this country will get to know the probe’s outcome – these questions needed to be answered, sooner the better.

  • Issue 3
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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