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(New York) – Bangladeshi authorities should drop spurious murder charges against Limon Hossain and halt the campaign of persecution against him. Hossain was physically assaulted and injured on August 20, 2012, by supporters of the Rapid Action Battalion counterterrorism force.

Hossain was a 16-year-old student when he lost a leg after being shot by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in a bungled operation in March 2011. The police took no action against his attackers. Instead, they filed criminal charges against Hossain and failed to protect him from attacks by alleged RAB supporters.

“The ongoing abuse of Limon Hossain and his family by government elements protecting RAB adds gross insult to already grievous injury,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The physical violence against Limon and his family and a new spurious murder charge only highlight the depths to which the Bangladeshi government will go to discredit and intimidate a young person who has already suffered the loss of one leg to RAB gunfire.”

On August 20, 2012, Ibrahim Sikdar, an alleged RAB informant, his brother-in-law, Forkan Sikdar and other unidentified people physically attacked Hossain on the streets of his home village of Jhalakati in Barisal district. When his mother and brother tried to intervene, they were also beaten. All three required hospitalization for their injuries and the doctor who tended to Hossain’s injuries said he requires ear surgery as a result of the attack.

During the August 20 incident, Forkan Sikdar suffered fatal heart failure. On August 23, Ibrahim Sikdar filed murder charges in the Jhalakati magistrate’s court against Hossain and his relatives, accusing them of killing Forkan Sikdar.

The Rapid Action Battalion was formed in March 2004 as an elite counterterrorism force. It has targeted both criminal suspects and alleged members of militant Islamist or left-wing groups.

The unit consists of members from the military – army, air force, and navy – the police, and Bangladesh’s other law enforcement groups. Members are assigned from their parent bodies, to which they return after serving with the unit. It operates under the Ministry of Home Affairs under the command of an officer not below the rank of deputy inspector general of the police or the equivalent military rank. Human Rights Watch and other international and domestic human rights organizations have long documented extrajudicial killings and torture by Rapid Action Battalion. However, the Bangladeshi government has refused to investigate these allegations. In private, some Bangladeshi officials have told Human Rights Watch that they are aware of the human rights violations, but that the government refuses to take action for fear of antagonizing the military.

Hossain was in the fields near his village in Jhalakati in southern Bangladesh on March 23, 2011, when members of RAB appeared, accused him of being a criminal, and shot him point-blank in his left leg. Four days later, Hossain’s leg had to be amputated to save his life.

Initially, the director general of the battalion, Mokhlesur Rahman, said that Hossain was an accidental victim of a shootout between RAB and a criminal gang. However, within days, the government issued a statement accusing him of being a “lackey” of known terrorists who was caught in “crossfire” during an operation against the group.

In June 2011, following local and international outcry over the incident, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered an investigation into the RAB officers involved in the incident. She also said that ongoing investigations had produced no evidence to show that Hossain had any involvement with terrorist activities. Although the prime minister’s statement vindicating him and announcing an investigation into his shooting was extensively reported by Bangladeshi media, the government withdrew the statement within four hours.

The government has never clarified why it withdrew the prime minister’s announcement or whether the investigation went forward. This lack of clarity has fueled widespread belief that the Rapid Action Battalion has a guarantee of impunity that even the prime minister cannot challenge.

The official police investigation into complaints filed on April 10, 2011, by Hossain’s family against six RAB members has still not been completed and no charges have been filed against those who shot him. On August 14, 2012, the police issued a report in which it found no evidence of Rapid Action Battalion involvement in Hossain’s shooting.

Instead, on July 8, 2012, the government disclosed that it had charged Hossain with obstructing Rapid Action Battalion operations and attempting to injure and kill RAB personnel. The National Human Rights Commission Chairman, Mizanur Rahman, has publicly called on the government to drop those charges.

“This government while in opposition and in its early days in power, declaimed RAB excesses and promised a zero-tolerance approach toward such abuses,” Adams said. “These latest actions to punish a Rapid Action Battalion victim, instead of to protect him, only perpetuates RAB impunity.”

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