Bangladesh's national police chief who denies extrajudicial killings

Rather than holding Benazir Ahmed accountable for killings under his command, he was appointed as head of the country’s police service.

Bangladesh's national police chief who denies extrajudicial killings
Benazir Ahmed promoted to Inspector General Police in April 2020. The prime minister, and Home Minister are also present. Photo PID.

Should one be surprised that although the killing of retired Major Sinha Mohammed Rashed Khan resulted in a national outcry and an unprecedented level of investigative cooperation between the army and police, there remains a stubborn refusal to use the apparent police murder as reason to inquire into hundreds of other alleged extrajudicial killings committed by the country’s security forces?

No. Not when the head of the police service is Benazir Ahmed.

In the joint press conference held in Cox’s Bazar on August 6, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Benazir Ahmed — the man in charge of the country’s police service — firmly rejected even the existence of “Crossfire”, a practice used commonly by law enforcement authorities to kill those, whether alleged criminals or political irritants, whom they  think should die. “We don’t agree with the word ‘crossfire’. Non-government organisations use this word,” the IGP told the attending journalists. “[T]hose who work with NGOs here bring money from abroad for various reasons and say many different things to justify their activities. ‘Crossfire’ is one of those terms they use.”

It does not take much research to show how consistent Benazir has been over the years  in defending extrajudicial killings including “crossfires”. 

In 2015, the year  Benazir was appointed as the Director General of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the elite unit of police had already earned global notoriety as a killer force — with the  leading global rights group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) describing RAB, a year, earlier as a “death squad”  for its  extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh and demanded its disbanding. However, immediately after taking office as the RAB chief, Benazir responded to the criticism of the organisation by saying, “Why have the arms been issued to the law enforcers? Is it to play Hadudu?” 

Amidst a huge spike in political violence including arson allegedly unleashed by the opposition BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami, he  told journalists in Khulna in January 2015, “What is extrajudicial killing? Should the law enforcers remain a mute spectator while criminals commit crime?” 

Three years later, in 2018, Benazir started to use the term  “engagements” to describe what others would view as extrajudicial killings. In an interview in March that year, he  said there had been a number of criminal gangs in Dhaka that had come into “engagements” with RAB and as a result their numbers had decreased. Boasting of the role of RAB, he asked “Where [now]was the Shahadat Bahini? Where was the Jahangir Bahini?” 

Two months later, at a press conference in May at the RAB’s media centre in Dhaka, Benazir Ahmed  said a “stronger stance” would be employed to prevent drug abuse. Significantly, he said, “Police cases through the courts would be encouraged less — due to backlog.” What does this mean? A stronger stance, twinned with  fewer prosecutions clearly implies a preference for deadly tactics of so-called “engagements” with the suspected drug dealers. “Don’t arrest, but kill”, is clearly the message. His press conference came in the backdrop of 33 deaths in “gunfights” with security forces in just over a week following the launching of  a ‘War on drugs’ earlier that month. Al Jazeera quoted rights activists who had warned against a possible campaign of extrajudicial killings.

An investigation by  into the operational procedures of RAB in its early days unveiled that the force prepared individual profiles of suspects which included an assessment of likely reactions to possible killings. In one such profile it was written: “There is no possibility of adverse reaction and tension in businesses and political circles if the highest punishment is executed. But a few top leaders in opposition can cash in on the issue.” One doubts that the authorities  would go to this kind of trouble now before killing someone.

Official records also showed that senior officers of the force were awarded medals for carrying out crossfire operations. In 2012, Benazir Ahmed’s predecessor, Mokhlesur Rahman, was awarded the Bangladesh Police Medal (BPM) for bravery. The official citation said, “Under his strategic leadership, 13 top extremist leaders have been arrested with huge cache of arms and explosives. Besides, nine top extremists have been killed in exchanges of gunfire.”  There is no indication that those policies have changed. The former head of Teknaf police, Pradip Kumar Das, now under investigation over the killing of the retired Major Sinha  received a police award for similar killings.

An analysis of available data (compiled by Odhikar) shows extrajudicial killings (through so called cross-fires, gunfights or engagements), by members of RAB since its inception has reached 1,158 and more than one-third of those deaths occurred under Benazir’s  command between 2015 and 2020. The killings were at their  peak in 2018, when it reached 136, equalling the previous three years total. This killing spree of RAB continued in 2019 too, when another 101 lives were lost. The irony is that prior to Benazir’s assumption of the command of RAB, the year when Human Rights Watch had termed it a death squad, the number of killings (in 2014) was at the relatively small number of 23. In addition, during his time in command of RAB,  there were also continuing accusations against RAB for its involvement in enforced disappearances. 

Not only should all these alleged extrajudicial killings be subject to investigation but those like  Benazir Ahmed who led the organisations responsible for the killings should also be investigated for their role in the hundreds of deaths and enforced disappearances under their command. Yet, rather than investigate and punish Benazir — the head of RAB during some of its most brutal years — the government earlier this year rewarded him by appointing him as the Inspector General of the Police. And when the whole nation is now outraged about extrajudicial killings, Benazir Ahmed remains in denial mode. The most brutal national police chief continues to mock everyone by claiming that “cross fires” are simply words imported by non-governmental organisations, rather than criminal murders.●

🔗 Daily Observer: Arms issued not to play ‘hadudu’: RAB DG

🔗 Prothom Alo: Extra Judicial killings are a misnomer

🔗 Blueprint for Crossfire death

🔗 Al Jazeera Extra judicial Killing fears in drug crackdown

🔗 Odhikar Statistics

🔗 Netra News OC Prodip: cop or murderer

🔗 Netra News: DGFI: Retired Bangladesh army major killed in police ‘killing competition