Bangladesh defends drug war as murder claims surface

Bangladesh police detain a man during a drive against narcotics in Dhaka. More than 100 alleged drug dealers have been killed and thousands detained in Bangladesh in the past fortnight in a crackdown that has raised concerns about extrajudicial killings. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2018

Bangladesh defends drug war as murder claims surface

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh: Bangladesh says Akramul Haque was a meth kingpin who died after opening fire at police, one of 130 accused dealers killed in murky late-night shootouts in an increasingly bloody war on drugs.
But his wife has gone public with tapes that she says prove her husband was murdered in a set-up, causing a sensation in Bangladesh as the police crackdown faces its first real scrutiny.
Ayesha Begum says the phone conversations she recorded with Haque on the night he died contradict the official narrative — that he was armed and shot at police, who returned fire in self-defense.
“They killed him in cold blood,” Begum said from Teknaf in southeast Bangladesh, where her husband, a local councilor, was gunned down on May 27.
“They said it was a shootout. But his hands were tied when he was killed. Someone was told to untie his hands after he was shot,” she said, describing what she heard over the phone.
AFP has listened to the audio but cannot independently verify that the voices belong to Haque, his wife and young daughter.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said police had copies of the recordings and were investigating but would not elaborate.
Rights groups say that if true, the chilling tapes — which have gone viral in Bangladesh — are proof that police have committed extrajudicial killings in the campaign that began on May 15 and has also seen 15,000 people arrested.
The recordings have cast doubt on what many Bangladeshis considered a legitimate effort to stamp out drugs, most notably “yaba,” a cheap and hugely popular methamphetamine pill.
There have been calls for an immediate inquiry, with some drawing parallels to the Philippines, where the rule of law has been eroded as thousands of bodies have piled up from a deadly drug war.
A letter co-signed by 10 high-profile Bangladeshis, including independence heroes and celebrated writers, said the allegations were “unimaginable in any democratic state and society.”
“One such incident is enough to question the entire campaign and terrorize the people,” the widely published letter said.
Police say all the people killed so far were wanted drug kingpins, and all died in late-night gang wars or shootouts with police. No officers have been seriously injured.
Haque was no different, they say.
They allege he was a “top godfather” of the yaba trade in Teknaf, a key transit town for the little red pills crossing the border from labs in Myanmar.
As is the case with almost all the other shootouts, police say they found drugs and weapons on his body — in Haque’s case 10,000 yaba tablets, two guns and rounds of live ammunition.
But Haque’s family says the father of two was innocent.
“If he were a yaba dealer, we would have many properties. Yet we struggle to pay our daughters’ school fees,” his wife Begum said.
She released four recordings to the media on May 31. Haque speaks to his daughter briefly in the first three, but in the fourth he says nothing into the phone as the tape rolls.
Sometime later, gunshots ring out and Begum says her husband can be heard moaning. Another man is then heard discussing how to best plant loaded guns, bullets and yaba at the scene.
Rights groups say Bangladesh’s security forces have a record of staging executions and Haque’s alleged murder fits a pattern.
“We have documented in the past, that all too often they engage in extrajudicial killings and then make up stories of these deaths in an armed exchange or in crossfire,” said Human Rights Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly.
Local rights activist Nur Khan Liton said Haque’s case was not the first one bearing the hallmarks of a set-up.
“Some families said the victims were arrested first ... and then killed in what appeared to be staged gunbattles,” he said.
The main opposition party — whose leader was jailed this year ahead of a general election — says the killings have a political angle, with five of their supporters gunned down so far.
“They are murdering innocent people to create a climate of fear, so nobody can hold protests against the government,” said Bangladesh Nationalist Party spokesman Rizvi Ahmed.
The government estimates 400 million yaba tablets hit the streets in 2017, despite seizures numbering in the tens of millions of pills.
The drugs crisis has expanded beyond urban areas, authorities say, with addicts found in rural areas of the Muslim-majority country.
Even more pills are expected to flood the market this year after Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar for Bangladesh were employed as drug mules, police say.
The government has vowed to eradicate the “menace” with the same aggression it used to choke homegrown Islamic extremism.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has defiantly stated that “no (drug) godfather will be spared.”
“I can say this because whenever I deal with something, I use an iron fist,” she said.


Virus prompts temperature checks, extra cleaning at airports

This picture taken on January 13, 2020 shows Taiwan's Center for Disease Control (CDC) personnel using thermal scanners to screen passengers arriving on a flight from China's Wuhan province, where a SARS-like virus was discovered and has since spread, at the Taoyuan International Airport. (AFP)
Updated 29 min 44 sec ago

Virus prompts temperature checks, extra cleaning at airports

  • The outbreak has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai, with cases also confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, as well as Taiwan

BEIJING: Many countries are checking the temperatures of arriving airline passengers and adopting precautionary quarantine procedures in response to a new virus that has sickened nearly 300 people and killed six in China. India, Nigeria, Japan and the United States are some of the countries where airport screening procedures were in place.
The outbreak is believed to have originated in the city of Wuhan in central China. The Chinese government’s confirmation that the new virus can be transmitted between people heightened fears it could spread faster and more widely just as millions of Chinese planned to travel for the Lunar New Year holiday. So far, the US, South Korea, Japan and Thailand have confirmed additional cases. Widening public health measures are intended to prevent a repeat of the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, which started in China and killed nearly 800 people.
 
MAINLAND CHINA
China’s often-secretive Communist government was blamed for making SARS far worse by initially hiding information and blocking the work of the World Health Organization. This time, leader Xi Jinping has called for tough measures and said “party committees, governments and relevant departments at all levels should put people’s lives and health first.” At the airport in Wuhan, the temperatures of departing passengers were checked and outbound tour groups were banned from leaving the city. Virtually everyone in a public role, from traffic police officers to bank tellers, is wearing a protective face mask. In addition to 258 cases in Wuhan, more than 20 have been diagnosed in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong province in the south and Zhejiang in the east.
 
JAPAN
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged officials to step up quarantine checks at airports and other entry points, and Japan will require visitors arriving from Wuhan to fill in health forms. Japan confirmed last week that a man in his 30s tested positive for the coronavirus after returning from the Chinese city. The health ministry says 41 people who had contact with him were being monitored and none has developed a fever, tight chest or other symptoms.
 
HONG KONG
The semi-autonomous city is one of the most popular destinations for mainland Chinese. It has stepped up surveillance and ordered more cleaning and disinfecting for planes and trains from Wuhan as well as for train stations and the airport. Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung said authorities are ready for a worst-case scenario and are on extremely high alert. A lack of information and low levels of vigilance were blamed for Hong Kong becoming the second-hardest hit area by SARS after mainland China in the early 2000s. As in much of mainland China, Hong Kong residents favor traditional markets where live poultry and other animals are sold. The government advises people against visiting such markets or touching animals or their droppings.
 
UNITED STATES
The US reported its first case of the virus on Tuesday in a man in Washington state who recently traveled from China. Health authorities are checking his contacts and travel. The US also will route all Wuhan-originating airline passengers to five airports where health screenings have begun or will begin later this week — New York’s Kennedy airport, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed a test to detect the new coronavirus and plans to share it with others.
 
SOUTH KOREA
South Korea reported its first case of the virus on Monday, in a Chinese woman who works at a South Korean company. At Incheon airport near Seoul, the only airport in South Korea with direct flights from Wuhan, two special gates are designated for passengers from the city and ear thermometers are used to check their temperatures. Arrival halls are being sprayed with disinfectant twice a week, up from once a week previously, and escalator handrails, elevator buttons and other sensitive surfaces are wiped with disinfectant twice a day. In 2015, South Korea suffered an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome which killed 36 people and sickened nearly 200.
 
NIGERIA
Nigeria’s government says health authorities at points of entry are on alert for cases of coronavirus arriving in Africa’s most populous country. The Nigeria Center for Disease Control asked that travelers from Wuhan report to a medical facility and the center if they feel ill. China is Africa’s top trading partner. South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said anyone with a severe respiratory illness should be tested if they have traveled to Wuhan within two weeks or had close physical contact with a coronavirus patient or treatment at a facility where a confirmed case has been reported. There were more than 200,000 Chinese workers in Africa as of the end of 2017, not including numerous informal migrants such as traders and shopkeepers, according to the China Africa Research Initiative at Johns Hopkins University.
 
INDIA
India will expand thermal screening of passengers arriving from China, including Hong Kong, to seven airports from the current three. In-flight announcements before arrival will direct passengers with a fever or cough who have traveled to Wuhan in the previous 14 days to declare themselves to health authorities. Thermal screening will begin in Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Cochin, and continue in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said.

SINGAPORE AND MALAYSIA
Singapore will expand temperature screening at Changi Airport, one of Asia’s busiest travel hubs, for all travelers on flights arriving from China beginning on Wednesday. The health ministry said individuals with pneumonia and a history of travel to Wuhan within 14 days of the onset of symptoms will be isolated in a hospital as a precautionary measure and investigated. Neighboring Malaysia has also beefed up screening at Kuala Lumpur’s airport. Deputy health Minister Lee Boon Chye said staff are being trained to handle possible cases. “If a case emerges, then we may have to take more drastic measures, but for now, we hope we can nip it at the entry point,” Lee told reporters.
 
BANGLADESH
Bangladesh civil aviation authorities have ordered airport managers to start screening incoming passengers from China. A.H.M. Touhid-ul Ahsan, director of the main Shahjalal International Airport, said doctors at the airport would look for fevers, coughs, breathing difficulties and sore throats. The country’s Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research will be notified of any passengers with symptoms for further examination, he said.
 
AUSTRALIA
Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer, said biosecurity staff and state health officials in New South Wales are meeting flights from Wuhan and are distributing pamphlets printed in English and Chinese to all passengers. The pamphlets describe symptoms of infection and ask people to identify themselves if they are experiencing any.
 
RUSSIA
Russia’s Healthcare Ministry described the virus as a biological hazard, with Deputy Minister Sergei Krayevoy saying the virus was a “striking example” of the biological threats Russia faces. The Russian public health service, Rospotrebnadzor, said it had developed a testing kit that would allow labs to detect the new coronavirus quickly. Russia is one of the three most popular tourist destinations for people from China, according to Russian officials. They estimate that about 2 million tourists from China visited Russia in 2018.
 
ITALY
The Italian Health Ministry says passengers making direct and indirect flights from Wuhan, China to Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport will be checked for potential signs of the virus. People with suspected infections will be quarantined at an infectious disease hospital in Rome, the ministry says. No cases have been reported so far. Posters at the airport advise travelers to consider delaying trips to the Wuhan area and if they do go there to avoid touching animals or uncooked animal products.