When police shot and killed a 24-year-old man in Bangladesh in mid-June, they said he was an Islamist militant wanted for the killings of several secular bloggers and gay rights activists.
They said the man had taken part in the hacking death of Bangladeshi American blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka last year and organized the killings in April of two gay rights activists, including U.S. embassy employee Xulhaz Mannan. They identified the gunman as Shariful, a member of the banned hard-line Islamist group Ansar Ullah Bangla Team (ABT).
According to police, after being challenged by a patrolling police team, three suspected militants on motor bikes opened fire; Shariful died in the gunfight and two militants fled.
Later, a man identified the deceased as his son, Mukul Rana, who, he said, had disappeared after being picked up by plainclothes police in February.
A day earlier, Golam Faizullah Fahim, accused of critically injuring a Hindu teacher in a machete attack, was killed in a gunfight. According to police, he was accompanying police on a raid and some militants fired upon them from a hideout.
Ibrahim Khalil Sobak, a Dhaka-based blogger, says that when suspects are shown to journalists, they often wear a bulletproof vest.
"But, while taking them to raids to arrest their accomplices, the criminals are routinely without any such vest. ... People in Bangladesh now know that death in crossfire means nothing but a staged extrajudicial killing of a person," Sobak, who has received several death threats from Islamists, told VOA.
Police version doubted
Bangladesh's home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said police were not responsible for the two killings.
"Our police did not trigger any crossfire. The killings took place when police went to catch the criminals and had to open fire in self-defense," Kamal said.
But Fahim’s and Rana's killings have faced severe criticism, with many people refusing to believe the police version of the crossfires.
"If my son really committed that ghastly crime, he should have been hanged following [a trial and] court order. ... Those who saw the dead body said that they pushed the barrel of the gun into his mouth and shot him," said Abul Kalam Azad, father of Rana (or Shariful).
Professor Ajoy Roy, father of slain blogger Avijit, said he was against Rana's extrajudicial killing even if the man was suspected of killing his son.
"He should be tried for whatever he has done. According to my conscience, any extrajudicial killing is deplorable," Roy told VOA.
Politicization of law enforcement
Human rights groups have long accused Bangladesh's security forces, especially the elite law enforcement agency Rapid Action Battalion, of arbitrarily picking up people, torturing them, and then killing them in custody.
In a special program Sunday during U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Dhaka-based human rights organization Odhikar reported at least 1,169 people lost their lives in extrajudicial killings between January 2009 and May 2016 in Bangladesh. According to Odhikar, in June, extrajudicial killings in the country took at least 24 lives.
Odhikar secretary Adilur Rahman Khan said the extrajudicial killings are going on in Bangladesh in defiance of all Constitutional and international standards.
"Politicization of the law enforcement agencies, along with the weaknesses of the justice delivery system, has created a scope for some of the law enforcement officials to become criminalized, and act with impunity. The country is fast plunging into a situation triggering grave human rights concerns," Khan told VOA.
"Being a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council for the third time, this situation is disgraceful for Bangladesh."
‘Rule of gun’
The government of Bangladesh has "adopted extrajudicial executions as the ultimate means to rule the country for their own benefits," said legal rights activist Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer of Hong Kong-based Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC).
"The rule of gun has replaced the rule of law in Bangladesh. By executing detainees in the name of ‘gunfights,’ the government and the law enforcement agencies prove that neither of them has any faith in the country's justice mechanism," Ashrafuzzaman told VOA.
RAB and other security agencies have long been used to target opposition party cadres, NGO activists and others by the current Awami League-led — as well as the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led — governments, noted Phil Robertson, Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch.
In many cases, these actions included harassment and arrests, but in some cases also extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, he said.
"When it was in the opposition, the Awami League even called for abolishing the Rapid Action Battalion, which was being used by the [Bangladesh Nationalist Party] to attack them, but once [Prime Minister] Sheikh Hasina took power, she reneged on that pledge and turned RAB into her weapon. Human Rights Watch has researched the actions of the RAB in the past, and determined that they are operating like a government-organized death squad, and we have seen no changes in their recent operations to change that judgment," Robertson told VOA.
"The RAB should be disbanded, and all security force members involved in abuses should be investigated and held accountable for the human rights violations they have committed," he added.