By Sunil Barua and Sharif Khiam
A court in southeastern Bangladesh convicted and sentenced two policemen to death Monday for gunning down a retired army major, in a case that drew international attention to numerous alleged extrajudicial killings by the nation’s law enforcement agencies.
The July 2020 shooting of Sinha Md. Rashed Khan at a checkpoint in Teknaf sub-district was a planned murder, Mohammad Ismail, a judge at the Cox’s Bazar District and Sessions Court, ruled. He also sentenced six more defendants to life in prison in connection with the killing and acquitted seven others, according to a BenarNews correspondent who was in the courtroom.
“Capital punishment for the two main accused was the expectation, which has been met. But I will be satisfied [only] on the day of the execution,” Sinha’s sister, Sharmin Shahriya Ferdousi, told journalists afterwards.
Of the two defendants sentenced to the gallows, Pradeep Kumar Das, a former officer-in-charge at the Teknaf police station, was found guilty of plotting Major Sinha’s murder, having co-conspirators and accomplices in the act, and destroying evidence, among other charges.
The second convict condemned to hang was Liaqat Ali, a former inspector at the Baharchhara Police Investigation Center. He was found guilty of shooting Sinha and plotting to kill him, among other charges.
The retired major, who used to be on the prime minister’s security detail, was killed by police personnel on July 31, 2020 at a checkpoint in Teknaf, which lies near the border with Myanmar and is notorious for cross-border drug smuggling.
The charge-sheet said the major had learned about Pradeep’s role in the smuggling of pills of yaba, an illegal narcotic that is a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine. The major was trying to confirm this and that angered Pradeep, Mohammad Jahangir, an attorney for the plaintiff, told BenarNews.
At around 9 p.m. on July 31, Sinha was stopped at one of the numerous checkpoints that are in place to guard against potential militant attacks and to stop the illegal drug trade. Liaqat stopped Sinha’s car a second time and pointed a pistol at him.
When Sinha stepped out of the car with his arms above his head, Liaqat shot three rounds into him, the Inter-Services Public Relations Directorate, a news agency of the armed forces, had said earlier.
The police initially said they had fired in self-defense, but a leaked conversation between Pradeep and Liaqat led to their arrest. Police filed two cases on Sinha’s death and an alleged recovery of drugs.
Sinha’s sister, Sharmin, filed another case against nine policemen, including Pradeep and Liaqat, six days after the killing.
Then, in a rare move, Bangladesh police transferred the entire 1,400-strong force out of Cox’s Bazar to bring new personnel into the southern border district that hosts about a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar.
News of Sinha’s killing caused an uproar in the country and prompted Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to assure the former army man’s family that justice would be served.
‘Give a clear message’
The trial and conviction of police personnel for so-called gunfights is relatively uncommon in a country where rights groups say police as well as an elite multi-force unit known as the Rapid Action Battalion have killed hundreds with impunity. In early December, the United States imposed financial sanctions on the RAB and six of its current and former officers, saying they were responsible for serious human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
As many as 174 people were killed in 106 so-called gunfights during Pradeep’s 33-month tenure at the Teknaf police station, according to findings by an inquiry committee formed by the home ministry after Sinha’s killing.
According to a local human rights group, alleged extrajudicial killings by security forces have dramatically decreased since the Sinha killing.
For instance, last year, 80 people were killed by security forces, allegedly illegally, according to Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK). By contrast 222 people were similarly killed in 2020, with most of the deaths occurring before Sinha’s killing. And a year before that, 388 people were killed in gunfights, many of which happened in Cox’s Bazar, the human rights group said.
“I do not believe that such a verdict would stop extrajudicial killings,” Nur Khan Liton, secretary general of ASK, told BenarNews, referring to the two death sentences.
“Those who run the state need to think seriously about it, they will have to give a clear message to stop such kinds of killings.”