Joint Statement: BANGLADESH: Impunity and corporate interests end lives and livelihoods

April 9, 2016


Bangladesh police have once again killed protestors. This time four out of a few hundred villagers who protested on 4 April 2016 have been killed. The farmers were protesting against acquisition of their agricultural lands without consent or adequate compensation, for the purpose of establishing a coal-fired power plant at Gondamara Village of Banshkhali Upazilla in Chittagong District.

The murdered victims have been identified as Anowarul Islam alias Angur (60), his brother Mortuza Ali (50), and Mortuza’s son-in-law Zager Ahmed (35), as well as Zaker Hossain (50). According to the villagers, around 30 people, including women and children, have suffered injuries in the police shooting spree. The police have also gone and arrested the bullet-ridden victims being treated in the hospitals, as well as relatives of deceased victims.

Human rights defenders and journalists found two of the wounded victims handcuffed and under police escort at the Chittagong Medical College Hospital. As a result, instead of approaching hospitals for treating their injuries, most of the victims have since gone into hiding to avoid arrest and detention.
The police have named 57 villagers and opposition party leaders in a case in which more than three thousand unidentified villagers have been made the accused. The police claim in the First Information Report that the villagers opened fire at the police and prevented them from discharging their duties. This case has generated severe fear amongst the local public, who have left their home, and now cannot take care of wounded family members or mourn the deaths of their dear ones.

The story that the villagers tell differs from the official police narrative. They have said that for about two years the villagers have been trying to vent their dissatisfaction with the China-financed coal-fired power plant, which was being established in collaboration with the S Alam Group, a Bangladeshi conglomerate. The inhabitants have concerns about the impact on the environment, as well as life and livelihood of the people in the area. The government and the companies have ignored villagers’ demand that the project be shifted elsewhere for the last two years. Moreover, the S Alam Group has allegedly acquired lands using the law-enforcement agencies of Bangladesh, due to the Group’s close affiliation with the ruling elites and their private goons.

Subsequently, in last two months, public agitation has intensified in the village. On April 4, early in the morning, the police arrested several people who were sleeping in the open air at the site of a dam. The arrests resulted in larger protests in the village. The District Administration imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedures, 1898, to ban public protests. The villagers defied this imposition. They shouted slogans: “We will give away lives, but not lands”. That afternoon, at around 4 p.m., the police and private goons of S Alam Group arrived at the site and shot at the protestors. The victims alleged that the armed men entered houses people and fired at women and children. Those that suffered bullet-wounds are mostly day-labourers.

According to the victims the tendency of the police is to extort financial and other benefits in every opportunity. The coercive tools used are torture, arbitrary detention, and fabricated charges, which are used mostly against the people who have nothing to do with the particular crime.

The people thus have no choice but fleeing their homes save themselves from torture and extortion; failure to meet the rabid greed of the police often costs lives. Successive governments have guaranteed impunity to the perpetrators and have acted in a fashion that obstructs the victims obtaining justice.

Corporate interests are always protected at the cost of the people’s life, blood, and livelihood, ushering in more misery for many. Bangladesh is an authoritarian regime, which survives by suppressing the people’s democratic freedoms, promotes and protects corporate money-mongers, which in turn also enable the political, bureaucratic, and financial elites to acquire undeserved wealth.

The Asian Human Rights Commission and Odhikar urge the international human rights community, including the United Nations, to actively focus on Bangladesh where disappearance of democracy and absence of rule of law ruins the life of the people. The international community and the Bangladeshis should work together for restoration of democracy to pave the way for the rebuilding of justice institutions in Bangladesh, which will then be able to uphold the rights of the people.

Report Published on April 09, 2016 at  www.humanrights.asia


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