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Monday, September 28, 2009

Crime problem weighs on Bangladesh government

Source: The Washington Post

DHAKA (Reuters) - Is crime on the rise in Bangladesh since a democratic government took charge eight months ago, after two years under a military-backed interim authority?
Holding the line on violent crime is important to attract aid and investment to the impoverished South Asian country of nearly 150 million, which has a history marred by frequent violence.
"The government must act immediately before rising crime becomes a pattern and maligns the image of the country," Asif Nazrul, an analyst and Dhaka University law teacher, told Reuters.
Hardly a day passes without Bangladesh newspapers carrying photos of murder victims' corpses lying in hospitals, on the street or in rural fields.
Some were killed in notorious "cross fire" between criminals and law enforcement agents -- regular police and the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) akin to other countries' SWAT teams.
A statutory government statement accompanies such death reports, saying the casualties occurred as the criminals opened fire at law officers pursuing them, usually at night.
"They (police or RAB) fired back in self-defense, resulting in fatalities," the statement says. Often there are casualties on the security force side too.
Opposition political parties say the cross-fire deaths are linked to graft, as corrupt ruling party officials and bureaucrats try to eliminate rivals and help steer government contracts and related kickbacks to friends and themselves.
Human rights groups meanwhile criticize the killings as effectively "extra-judicial" means of trying to enforce order, and have urged the authorities to crack down on the practice.
The government denies such accusations.
"No one has been killed by law enforcers deliberately or (is) being tasked by the government" to do extra-judicial killings, Home Minister Sahara Khatun said recently.
Being a law-enforcement agent does not mean one cannot shoot back in self defense when under fire, she added.
Sahara also told parliament the "law and order situation did not deteriorate, rather improved since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the reins."
Hasina assumed office in January after winning what most independent observers considered a clean election.
She vowed to tackle problems ranging from poverty to crime, to ensure a modicum of stability and attract aid and investment that would lift the standard of living in a country were roughly 40 percent of the population earn less than $1 a day.
But the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of ex-prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia says the government is ineffective generally on law and order.
"Killing, rape, robbery ... are on the rise due to slackened administration," Khondaker Delwar Hossain, secretary-general of the BNP, told reporters.
Even while saying the overall crime rate was falling, Hasina's Home Minister Sahara also told parliament: "Some 10 people were killed on average each day" over the first eight months of the year.
Police say more than 200 people were killed in the capital alone from January through August, among a national total of 2,836. They said 4,099 and 3,691 people were killed in 2008 and 2007 respectively under the army-backed interim regime, and some 4,166 people murdered in 2006 when Khaleda was in power.
If the trend of the first eight months continues, the total in Hasina's first year would be marginally higher.
A senior police officer who did not want to be named told Reuters: "Criminals backed by different political parties have flooded back into the capital Dhaka and other cities since the change of guard."
A senior home ministry official said those behind the problems include: "seasoned criminals, killers for hire, frustrated sons of the rich, drug addicts as well as political activists."
Independent observers say students from Hasina's Awami League and Khaleda's BNP flex muscles or use guns to extort money, steal documents to help favored businessmen, and take mob action to control streets or university dormitories.
"Government efforts to curb crime are failing, because certain people with political backgrounds are patronizing crime gangs for unlawful benefits," retired Brigadier-General Shahedul Anam Khan, an independent political analyst, told Reuters.
(Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Jerry Norton)

Security forces dismantle Islamic militant camp in Bangladesh, arrest five

By Anisur Rahman, Correspondent

Dhaka: Security forces on Saturday arrested five leaders of the Jamaatul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and dismantled a camp of the outlawed group in the rugged southeastern hills under a revamped campaign against militant outfits, officials said yesterday.
"Three 'ehsar' members [second-rung leaders] were arrested during the raid at their hideout at Matiranga area of Khagrachhari [hill district] last night while the two others were captured from elsewhere in subsequent raids overnight," a spokesman of the elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) told Gulf News.
Major Shakhawat Hussain, however, did not provide details about the raid.
Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina's eight-month-old government had last month constituted a high-powered national committee to coordinate intelligence activities against militant groups.

Bangladesh's chain of corruption undermine victim's rights to Justice

By Rater Zonaki
Column: Humanity or Humor?

Bangladesh's law-enforcement agencies claim that they have a strong chain of command to maintain law and order in the country. Likewise policymakers and politicians, who are close to the center of power, claim that they are dedicated to the great cause of upholding the rule of law in the country.
However, the opposition – regardless who they are – always criticize the rulers for destroying the concept of the rule of law. And "chain of command" in the law-enforcement agencies exists only in the imaginations of its officers, along with the illusion of rule of law.
A girl we will call Chobi – not her real name – was raped by a man named Sohel in Chhetra village in Kishorganj district on June 13. The rape victim reportedly went to the Nikli police station to register a complaint against the rapist.
The police refused to record the case, as the alleged accused was the son of an influential person in the locality, and had already bribed the police before the victim approached them.
Chobi had to go to the Special Tribunal on Women and Children Repression Prevention of Kishorganj district in order to register her case. The tribunal judge ordered the same police station to record the complaint as a first information report. Then the complaint was recorded with the police.
Police Sub-Inspector Shashank Kumar Sarkar was assigned to investigate the case. A medical report from public hospital doctors who had examined her asserted that Chobi had been raped – a strong starting point for the prosecution.
Chobi’s family was hopeful that the legal process would lead to justice – but they were about to experience a different reality.
The investigating officer demanded 30,000 takas (US$436) as a bribe in order to submit a rape charge against the accused – despite the fact that all evidence, including witness statements and the medical examination report, supported the complaint of rape.
Chobi's poor family, which had already spent a sum beyond their capacity to bring the case this far, was unable to pay the demanded bribe. The family managed to pay 6,000 takas (US$87) and give fish worth 1,000 takas to Shashank. This means that the investigating officer received bribes in cash and in kind for investigating a rape case.
The police officer insisted that the family pay the remainder of the bribe. When they could not do so, Shashank took his revenge by accepting a bribe from the accused instead. He then submitted a report to the court stating that the claim of rape was false.
Chobi, a victim of rape, now has no hope of justice unless the court orders another agency or a judicial officer to reinvestigate the complaint. Yet no one can predict the outcome of another investigation.
Chobi told her story on Sept. 15 at a press conference, where she handed out a written statement to reporters. She also applied to the district superintendent of police, seeking his intervention. The assistant superintendent of police at another police station was asked to inquire into the matter.
However, it is hardly believable that the authorities will take action against the Nikli police or Sub-Inspector Shashank. This is because Bangladesh's whole law-enforcement system follows a chain of corruption rather than a chain of command.
For example, Police Inspector Hashem Ali Khan, who detained human rights defenders in a fabricated kidnapping case at the Paikgachha police station in Khulna, a southwestern district, told the detainees that he had to pay his superior officers when he brought in detainees for a five-day stay. He said he needed money for fuel and other things. He also warned them that they would be tortured if they didn’t pay the bribe he demanded.
A number of police departments and the Ministry of Home Affairs inquired into this matter, which took place in November, 2008. Yet it yielded nothing – inspector Hashem Ali Khan has been enjoying his policing elsewhere.
Due to intervention by the Asian Human Rights Commission, a Hong Kong-based rights watchdog, the Khulna district police authority inquired into a complaint against Sub-Inspector Ayub Ali of the Paikgachha police station.
On June 13 Ayub Ali visited the house of Shahidul Islam, who had been held on fabricated charges and tortured while in detention for four days without any official record or lawful grounds.
The police officer told Shahidul's mother, "Do you know what will happen to me and you now? I will have to pay to settle the matter and I might be transferred. But the police will be here forever, and I will arrange for your son and his advisers to languish in jail for years."
These threatening words carry the truth that any police officer who is accused of violating the law of the land can walk free by bribing his superior authorities. In reality, Ayub was transferred to Kustia district without facing criminal prosecution or departmental action after an inquiry was conducted.
It is an open secret in Bangladesh that police officers consider a particular jurisdiction a good place to work if more crimes take place there. More crimes bring more bribes. Officers must pay bribes in order to be posted to those "good places," the amount determined by the rank of the job-seeker and the possibilities of income from the targeted posting.
The recipients of bribes also include bureaucrats in the ministries, parliamentarians of the concerned constituencies and influential local politicians. Thus a chain of corruption is established from the top to the bottom of society.
The ordinary poor are compelled to pay bribes far beyond their capacity, up to all their assets, while those in power enjoy the taste of corruption and make the country a heaven of bribery.
The Bangladeshi policymakers should accept this article as an open challenge to prove these stories untrue. There are thousands of similar stories across the country. The authorities can win this challenge only if they acknowledge this deep national problem and reform this system and chain of corruption.
(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong, working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national who has worked as a journalist and human rights activist in his country for more than a decade, and as editor of publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues.)

Rapist goes into hiding, Video stores raided, three held at Pirojpur, Bangladesh

Source: The Daily star
Police yesterday raided video stores in Pirojpur and arrested three on charge of trading in CDs containing footage of rape of a schoolgirl by a local leader of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL).
The law enforcers filed a case against the three and an unspecified number of accused on charges of rape, blackmail and distribution of obscene video footage in the market, said Officer-in-Charge (OC) of Pirojpur sadar police Mir Fashiar Rahman.
The police also visited the family of the victim and assured them of all legal aid and security.
The move came after The Daily Star reported Monday on the rape and taking footage of the scene by Ahsan Kabir Mamun alias Mamun Hawlader, information and research secretary of district unit BCL, student front of ruling Awami League.
The arrestees are Suman Talukdar, son of Abdul Hye Talukdar and owner of Soukhin Audio-Video Corner at Gopal Krishna Town Club Market, Shahin Howladar, son of Jabbar Howladar of Khamkata and apprentice worker of Digital Mobile Servicing Centre on Pourashava Road, and Faisal Gazi, son of Siddik Gazi of Shikarpur and buyer of a CD.
The police say they detected the video store after interrogating buyer Faisal Gazi yesterday morning and arrested the two others and seized some CDs.
Asked about any possible move to net the rapist BCL leader, Pirojpur police say they would probe the matter and arrest everyone responsible for rape, record of the rape and trading of the CDs.
Md Shahidullah Chowdhury, superintendent of police, Pirojpur, told The Daily Star they would continue their drive to seize the video footage from the market and arrest all culprits.
The law enforcers also visited the family of the victim and assured them all sorts of legal cooperation, safety and security, Chowdhury added.
A similar incident took place in Faridpur where a girl was gang-raped and the video was released in the market. Since July Faridpur police could not arrest anyone in this regard.