Asia

39 Rohingya Killed in 'Gunfights' With Bangladeshi Authorities in 2019

By Muktadir Rashid   23 September 2019

DHAKA—In 2019, as many as 39 Rohingya, including one woman, have been killed in reported incidents of “gunfights” with law enforcement and four others were killed in Cox’s Bazar over their suspected involvement in killings, drug sales, robbery, abductions and human trafficking.

The total for 2019 represents a major increase, as a total of 44 Rohingya have been killed since August 2017 in “gunfights” with law enforcement agencies including police, Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion and its Border Guard Battalion.

Official statistics from the Cox’s Bazar District police headquarters don’t separate data by year but police said that 39 Rohingya have been killed in 2019 alone.

The law enforcement agencies involved, mainly the police in Teknaf, in Cox’s Bazar, claimed that the gunfights occurred when suspected criminals opened fire at them.

Rohingya leaders, however, alleged that many of the deceased had been held or detained and that the “gunfights” in which they were killed occurred while they were in custody.

“If anyone commits crimes, the suspected criminals should be punished under the law. Killing is against the law,” Nay San Lwin, the campaign coordinator at the Free Rohingya Coalition, told The Irrawaddy.

Bangladeshi Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said that despite all efforts to the contrary, some Rohingya had become involved in smuggling methamphetamine pills known as yaba from Myanmar, in many cases risking their lives.

He said that exchanges of gunfire may have happened because the Bangladeshi Border Guard was instructed to guard the border and prevent any unauthorized people from entering the country.

“Those who have not challenged [law enforcement agencies] are in jail,” said the minister, adding that Rohingya were not invited into Bangladesh but have been given shelter to protect their lives, according to Dhaka-based daily newspaper New Age.

On Saturday night, two more Rohingya—Dil Mohammad, 32, and Zaheda Begum, 27, a couple from a refugee camp in Teknaf’s Hnila area—were killed in a “gunfight” with Teknaf police in Cox’s Bazar hours after they were released from detention.

The officer in charge of Teknaf Police Station, Pradip Kumar Das, said they detained the couple when they were found in possession of a gun during a raid in the camp intended to recover firearms.

He said the police exchanged fire with associates of Dil Mohammed during the raid and in the line of fire the couple was injured and later declared dead by the district hospital.

Police officials claimed to have recovered three rifles, eight cartridges and 12 empty cartridges from the spot.

According to the Teknaf police station, at least 29 locally made weapons have been seized from Rohingya killed during exchanges of fire or gunfights this year.

Since January, at least four Rohingya have also been found shot dead in Teknaf. Their deaths have not been connected to reported shootouts with law enforcement.

On March 26, the police recovered the body of Mohammad Abu Sayed Prokash, 35, a Rohingya living in Nayapara Refugee Camp in Teknaf who was suspected of robbery. The police said they found his body after hearing gunshots.

On August 8, the police in Teknaf said they recovered the bodies of the wife and brother of suspected Rohingya criminal Abdul Hakim. His wife, Rubi Akhter, 30 and his brother Kabir Ahmed, 28, were found in the hilly area of Whykhong in Teknaf. The police claimed at the time that the murders were the result of an internal feud. The police are still looking for Abdul Hakim.

“The number of killings is now higher than in recent years,” Jakaria Alfaz, a Teknaf-based journalist, told The Irrawaddy. “I had never seen 10 Rohingya killed in a single month, but it happened this month.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Thursday that the killings have “created a climate of intense fear in the area’s refugee camps.”

It also said that police have killed six Rohingya refugees who they allege were responsible for the Aug. 22 murder of Omar Faruk, a local youth leader from the ruling Awami League in Cox’s Bazar.

A senior police official in Cox’s Bazar told The Irrawaddy that they investigated the case and found that the killing was over a drug money dispute between Omar Faruk and alleged criminal Nur Mohammad, an ethnic Rohingya.

Faruk’s murder provoked violence against Rohingya in some areas. According to Human Rights Watch, one refugee in Camp 27 in Cox’s Bazar said local residents were threatening to kill Rohingya community members, asking “‘Why don’t you [Rohingya] leave our land?’”

“Instead of quelling the tensions, law enforcement officers allegedly refused to intervene and protect the refugees from these attacks,” read the Human Rights Watch statement. The statement also alleged that authorities engaged in collective punishment and cut off internet access for refugees, ordering telecommunications companies not to sell refugees SIM cards or phone service. Law enforcement claimed this was necessary to prevent criminal activity.

“The Bangladesh government is navigating a precarious security environment in Cox’s Bazar, heightened by the influx of 700,000 Rohingya refugees since the Myanmar government’s ethnic cleansing campaign since late 2017. But every measure should be a proportionate response to specific risks and ensure the protection of basic rights,” read the statement.

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