III. Extrajudicial Executions by RAB

One of the first publicized RAB killings was of the wanted criminal suspect Pichchi Hannan in Dhaka on August 6, 2004.  RAB first tried to arrest Hannan on June 25 but he escaped after a shootout, during which he was wounded.52  RAB arrested him and two accomplices the next day at a hospital on the outskirts of the city, where he was getting medical care (see also the case of Debashish Kumar Das, below).53

RAB kept Hannan in custody until August 6, when it announced that he had died “in crossfire.”  According to RAB-1 commander at the time Lt. Col. Chowdhury Fazlul Bari, members of RAB and the Detective Branch (DB) took Hannan with them to arrest other gang members at Diakhali in Savar (north of Dhaka) and Hannan died when the security forces came under attack.54  “Two teams of RAB and DB rushed to Diakhali with Hannan on information that the gang members were there in a meeting,” Bari said.  “As soon as the law-enforcers reached the place, the criminals started to shoot away.”55 But a journalist reporting on the killing found no record at the Savar police station of an armed fight.  Doctors at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital said Hannan might have been shot point-blank and that all the bullet wounds came from the front.56

Hannan’s death after 41 days in RAB custody raised suspicions about the force, which was already gaining a reputation for its aggressive approach.  According to one analysis, Hannan’s death “shook the criminals for the first time.”57

On August 9, then-RAB Director General Anwarul Iqbal said the police would investigate all deaths in RAB custody and hold accountable those found to have violated the law. “If autopsy or forensic reports show the people were killed in custody, unnatural death (UD) cases will be turned into murder cases,” he said.58  But no one is known to have been held accountable for Pichchi Hannan’s death.

United Nations principles on the prevention and investigation of extrajudicial executions provide detailed guidelines for governments, which Bangladesh has not adopted.  They include the need for “thorough, prompt and impartial investigations” of all suspected unlawful killings to determine the cause of death and the person responsible.  Independent and impartial physicians should perform autopsies in cases of possible unlawful killings, and bodies should be kept until an adequate autopsy is carried out and the family informed of the findings. Where the established investigative procedures are inadequate because of lack of expertise or impartiality, investigations of possible unlawful killings should be pursued through an independent commission of inquiry.59

Throughout 2004 the number of deaths in RAB custody, usually by “crossfire,” continued to rise, reaching roughly 60 by year’s end.60  RAB frequently publicized the deaths in press releases and by speaking to the media.  The stories were shockingly the same: RAB arrested a “top criminal” and took him with them to retrieve illegal arms or to arrest cohorts, and the person was killed when the RAB unit came under armed attack.

Lawyers, human rights groups, and some media outlets began to complain, as did the opposition parties, led by the Awami League.61  They began to speak about extrajudicial killings at the hands of the state.

The government defended RAB by saying that the people it killed were criminals who threatened law and order.  “Criminals cannot have any human rights,” said State Minister for Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar at the celebration of RAB’s first anniversary in March 2005.  He attacked human rights organizations for criticizing the force: “When criminals are being killed in encounters, human rights organizations speak out. But when policemen get killed by the criminals, no one speaks about human rights.”62

Other government officials echoed his words.  “A certain quarter does not raise its voice for human rights when a terrorist kills ten to twelve innocent persons,” Finance Minister Md. Saifur Rahman said.  “But this quarter is very active to uphold human rights of a terrorist in crossfire with the law enforcers,” he added.63

Ten suspected gang members killed by RAB-7 in front of a Chittagong police station in September 2004. RAB often leaves persons it kills outside for the public and media to see.  © 2004 Zobaer Hossain Sikder

By early 2005 RAB’s role in custodial deaths was not in dispute.  According to media and human rights groups, by March of that year at least 200 people had died in custody, many in “crossfire.”64  Still the government defended RAB’s work.  On March 26 RAB won the prestigious Swadhinata Padak, an award to commemorate Bangladesh’s day of independence.65     

RAB continued to publicize these deaths, usually in “crossfire,” through press releases, the vast majority of which followed the same pattern.  In many cases RAB left the body of its victim on the street for bystanders and the media to see.  The apparent intent was to terrify criminals and citizens alike into respecting the law.

One such case took place on June 16, 2005, when RAB arrested a 16-year-old boy accused of theft and apparently shot him on a Dhaka street.  Human Rights Watch spoke with a woman who lives in the area where the incident took place, Uttara, and who had known the victim since he was born.  She said the boy, Samsul Haq, studied at a madrasa and was not involved in crime.66

According to the woman, who requested anonymity, she was at home in the evening when gunshots rang out.  She saw people running in the street and then the police with a boy in handcuffs, whom people said had been caught for a theft.  It was Samsul Haq. A van with six RAB members soon arrived, followed by two police vans, members of the CID, and then more RAB.   She told Human Rights Watch what happened next:

I saw them take Samsul to the main road.  Within five minutes I heard shooting.  I heard four shots.  Two were smaller and two were louder.  They waited 10 minutes and then they opened the road for people to see.  I went to look.  My mother fainted, she was very upset.  I saw a bone in his chest.  His hands were tied behind his back.  He was not blindfolded.  There was a bucket of water and something inside it was wrapped in scotch tape.  They said it was a bomb.

Samsul was wearing trousers but no shirt.  There was a lot of blood.  I saw a bullet would in his chest and I could see the bone.  There were two small wounds from both sides of the head and lots of blood that had already congealed.

Near the bucket was a pistol and a small bag with some [fake] jewelry.  I was right next to the body.  The police allowed everyone to see.67

The body stayed on the street until 1 a.m., the woman said.  The police called the press, and television journalists interviewed people about the crime but no one accused RAB of killing Samsul Haq. “I couldn’t say anything because I have a brother and he could be crossfired too,” the woman said.

The Uttara area of Dhaka is under the jurisdiction of RAB-1.

In other cases of “crossfire,” RAB did not want the public to see the body.  On November 28, 2004, in Chittagong, for example, RAB arrested Mahimuddin Mohim, age 35, a businessman and assistant secretary of the Awami League’s student wing, the Chattra League.  According to Mahimuddin Mohim’s family, who spoke with Human Rights Watch, the arrest took place at the Chittagong airport around 8:30 p.m., when Mohim returned from a business trip to Dubai.  Around 11 p.m. a local television station reported that Mohim had been killed in crossfire.

According to RAB, after questioning Mahimuddin Mohim at RAB-7 headquarters, the force took him with them to search for illegal weapons, and he was killed in crossfire when Mohim’s gang attacked.68

The family got the body around 5 p.m. the following day.  “A police van brought the body so the family could take a look,” the victim’s brother, Giashuddin Mohim, told Human Rights Watch.  “But we had to promise that only the family would look and no one else.  They brought the body in the back of a police van.”69

On November 28, 2004, RAB-7 in Chittagong arrested Mahimuddin Mohim. About two hours later he died in “crossfire.”  © 2004 Private

The body was covered in plastic but Giashuddin Mohim could see some of the wounds.  “I saw the left elbow was broken and the ring finger on one hand was smashed,” he said.  Giashuddin Mohim later saw the autopsy report and said that his brother’s body had seven or eight bullet wounds.

In a well-known “crossfire” case from Chittagong, on November 30, 2004, RAB-7 arrested a local leader of the BNP’s student wing, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, and a notorious suspected criminal, Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, age 33.  The police wanted Chowdhury, known as Iqbialla, for murder, extortion, and rape.

Undercover RAB members working as street vendors arrested Iqbialla in the early evening and, according to a witness who spoke with Human Rights Watch, led him away blindfolded and with hands bound.  “One-and-half hours later I heard he had been killed in Fatehabad, Hathajari, about 20 kilometers outside of town,” the witness said.  “RAB said it was an ‘encounter,’” meaning an armed clash between security forces and an armed group.70

Iqbal Bahar Chowdhury, killed by RAB “in crossfire,” lying in front of the Chittagong morgue on December 1, 2004. © 2004 Zobaer Hossain Sikder

According to RAB they arrested Iqbialla after a gun fight (the witness who saw RAB leading Iqbialla away said he had seen no evidence of a fight).  After Iqbialla was in custody, RAB took him with them to search for illegal weapons held by his gang.  RAB reported its forces came under attack near Kali Mondir and Iqbialla died in the crossfire as he tried to run away.71  RAB sources told the press that cohorts of Iqbialla opened fire on them when they took Iqbialla to the Fatiyabad area in search of arms.  “Iqbal was caught in the crossfire and died on the spot trying to escape from the cordon,” RAB-7 then-commander Lt. Col. Emdadul Haq said.72

In a third case from Chittagong, on September 10, 2004, RAB-7 arrested Ahmadul Haq Chowdhury, known as Ahmudya, along with his bodyguard, known as Minhaz.  Both died from crossfire the next day.  According to media accounts, human rights reports, and Human Rights Watch interviews in Chittagong, Ahmudya’s problems began when he defected from the Jama’at-e-Islami party to the BNP on July 15, 2004, bringing with him about one thousand supporters.73

Around Chittagong, the tall and charismatic Ahmudya was known as a kingpin of the underworld.74  According to Lt. Col. Haq, Ahmudya stood accused of “at least 100 murders over the years in the district.”75  But the timing of his death, after his defection from Jama’at-e-Islami to the BNP, raised questions about RAB’s relationship to Jama’at-e-Islami.  Human rights activists and journalists who cover Chittagong told Human Rights Watch that RAB-7 has close ties to Jama’at-e-Islami and some of the local armed Islamic groups.  According to Ain o Salish Kendra, which investigated Ahmudya’s death, Ahmudya’s family believes that Jama’at-e-Islaimi orchestrated the murder through RAB.  “They point to the invisible but close relationship between the JI and RAB in Chittagong as the factor behind Ahmadul’s death,” the report said.76

Killing of Debashish Kumar Das

On June 26, 2004, RAB forces in Dhaka arrested a 32-year-old father of two, Debashish Kumar Das, a fish trader at Dhaka’s Karwan Bazar, along with two other men suspected of criminal acts.  About six hours later RAB brought Das to the hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.

The day before, RAB in the Uttara area of Dhaka had tried to arrest Pichchi Hannan (see above).  Hannan and his cohorts escaped after a shootout but he sustained injuries and reportedly went for treatment at Savar hospital on the outskirts of Dhaka.77  The next day, two associates of Hannan, Shaheb Ali and Debashish Kumar Das, went to visit Hannan in the hospital.  Around 6 p.m. RAB arrived and arrested all three men.78

Das was reportedly not injured during the arrest, but around 11:45 that night RAB brought him to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, where he died.79  An acquaintance of Das’s who saw the body at the hospital said he noticed no injury other than a wound, possibly from a bullet, on the side of the right knee.80  But one journalist reported that, according to sources at the morgue, both of Das’s hands and legs were broken.81  The man arrested with Das, Shehab Ali, was reportedly taken to hospital with serious injuries.82

According to Das’s father, Gajendra Kumar Das, his son first learned about Hannan’s shooting from the television around 8 p.m. on June 25.83  Das left home and called around 11 that night to say he would be back late because of heavy rain.  The family heard nothing more from him, and the next evening a friend informed them that, according to the television news, Das was dead and his body was at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.

When the family arrived at the hospital they saw lots of police, RAB members, and journalists, Gajendra Das said.  A police officer from Uttara told him that he had seen RAB members beating his son.  The hospital prepared the body for funeral so the family could only observe Das’s face, where they saw no wounds or marks.  The authorities never provided the family with an autopsy report, nor did they inform anyone of the cause of death.  On the advice of family and friends, the family decided not to file any criminal case against RAB.

Killing of Sumon Ahmed Majumder

On July 15, 2004, members of RAB arrested Sumon Ahmed Majumder, a garment trader and activist in the Awami League’s youth wing, the Jubo League.  He died after approximately 10 hours in custody, apparently from wounds sustained in custody.

Age 23, Majumder was vice president of the Jubo League’s ward No. 10 in Tongi.  He was also a witness to the May 7, 2004 murder of Awami League parliamentarian and well known trade union leader Ahsan Ullah Master.84  Opposition parties said that RAB had killed Majumder to hide the government’s involvement in Ahsan Ullah Master’s death.85

According to three members of Majumder’s family, the victim spent the morning and early afternoon of July 15 campaigning for Jahid Ahsan Russel, the Awami League candidate in the Gazipur by-election, which was held after Ahsan Ullah Master died.86 Russel was Master’s son.

Majumder arrived home around 2:30 p.m., and shortly thereafter a policeman the family identified as Assistant Sub Inspector Monir from Tongi and a BNP activist named Abdul Ali came to the house.  Abdul Ali, the family said, is the brother of one of the main suspects in the Ahsan Ullah Master murder.87

According to Majumder’s mother, Monir suggested that Majumder stop his political activities with the Awami League and join the BNP. If he did, Abdul Ali would pay him 2,000 taka per day (about US$30). Majumder responded that he would not switch sides and Monir warned that this decision would cost him a great price. The two men left the house, but Abdul Ali returned a few minutes later to tell Majumder that Monir wanted to speak with him again.  Majumder and Monir spoke briefly outside the house.

Five or ten minutes later, around 3 p.m., two unknown men in civilian clothes arrived at the door and asked if Majumder lived in the house.  The family said yes and one of the men made a phone call to an unknown person, saying that they had located Majumder. Very quickly, a large group of armed men arrived. All of them wore civilian clothes except for one man in a RAB vest, Majumder’s mother said. The man in charge identified himself to her as Sub Inspector Shahjahan from RAB. 

Majumder was taking a shower when the men arrived but they arrested him right away and took him to a minibus waiting outside. The family saw him being blindfolded.  According to the human rights group Odhikar, which reported on the case in its 2004 annual report, RAB asked Majumder if he was a witness to the murder of Ahsan Ullah Master. Odihkar also reported that one RAB official told Majumder, “You will be killed by BNP supporters, now we are going to do the same thing.”88

At the same time as RAB arrested Majumder, the force arrested two other men from the area: Akbar Hossain Pinku, age 20, and Majumder’s cousin, known as Lokman, age 22.  RAB blindfolded these men as well, and took them together in the minivan.

Inside the van, someone put a gun to Lokman’s head, Lokman told Human Rights Watch.89  Another person said they were going to kill Majumder and that they could also kill Lokman, dumping his body on the road. According to Lokman, the van drove to the RAB-1 headquarters in Uttara.  Around 8 p.m. RAB members took the blindfolds off Lokman, Majumder, and Pinku, and brought them to an outhouse in the middle of a field inside the compound.

Around this time, Majumder’s father, Monir Ahmed Majumder, learned of his son’s arrest.  He contacted the police but they claimed to have no information about the arrest.90

Inside the outhouse, RAB members made all three men sit on the floor. Three RAB officials then started beating them with large batons as they asked them who had killed Assan Ullah Master. In total, RAB beat Lokman, Majumder, and Pinku for about three hours. One of the RAB members then received a phone call and Lokman could hear the man responding, “Sir, the people you were talking about have been found. We have them here and will give them a treatment.”

After the phone call, some RAB members got a large electric drill with a bit as thick as an index finger, Lokman said. They drilled into the side of Majumder’s right calf.  They connected electric wires to the same socket as the drill and put these live wires on the wound.

Around 11 p.m. RAB members took Majumder, Pinku, and Lokman to a white minivan. Majumder had lapsed into unconsciousness and a RAB member poured water on his face to wake him up.  Majumder partially woke up.

The van drove to the Tongi police station, Lokman said, but the officer in charge refused to take the three men because of their physical state.  RAB took them to the Tongi Hospital, where doctors bandaged Majumder’s leg.

This account was confirmed by the human rights group Odhikar, which spoke with the policeman on duty in Tongi that night, Sub Inspector Rafiq.  The policeman told Odhikar that RAB officials led by Sub Inspector Shajahan brought Majumder, Pinku, and Lokman to the station at 9:45 p.m. but he refused to accept them due to their poor medical condition.  RAB took them to Tongi Hospital, Sub Inspector Rafiq said, and brought them back to the police station with medical certificates around 11:20 p.m.  At that time, they filed a complaint of extortion against the three, on behalf of a businessman named Tajul Islam.  Around 12:05, Sub Inspector Rafiq learned that Majumder’s condition had worsened, so he sent him to the hospital for a second time.  At 1:30 a.m. Sub Inspector Rafiq learned that Majumder had died.91

“Sumon’s [Majumder’s] condition deteriorated after the RAB officials left the police station and we sent him to Tongi Health Complex where he died at 1:30 a.m.,” an unnamed officer at the Tongi police station told the press.92

The human rights group Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) also conducted an investigation into Majumder’s death and viewed hospital records that confirm Majumder’s treatment that night.  Case number 3116 in the Tongi Hospital registry shows that Majumder was treated around 10:30 p.m. for assault and shock, a deep laceration on the right leg, and swelling on different parts of the body.  ASK also saw the police report from that night, which said that the police had charged Majumder and two accomplices with extortion under the Speedy Trial Act.  Majumder was injured while resisting arrest, the report said.93

The ASK investigation looked at other documents, including an unnatural death case (number 17/04, July 16, 2004) filed by Sub Inspector Rafiqul Islam after Majumder’s death.94  RAB Sub Inspector Shahjahan and other members of RAB-1 arrived at Tongi police station at 9:25 p.m. to hand over Majumder, Lokman, and Pinku, ASK reported. According to Odhikar, the unnatural death case named several RAB officials. 95

The family learned of Majumder’s death around 8 a.m. the following day.  Majumder’s father, who saw the body, said he observed a deep cut under one of the knees.  Under one foot he saw wounds that looked as if they were made by a drill.  There were deep holes on several places on the legs, he said, as well as a bruise on the right cheek.96

Majumder’s uncle, Abdus Salam, prepared the body for funeral.  He said that Majumber had deep wounds on his legs, shins, and calves.  He had a 15 centimeter cut on the back of his neck, although that might have been from the autopsy.  He also saw bruises all over the body, in particular on the upper parts of the arms.97

In a statement, RAB said that Majumder was killed when an angry mob beat him after he was caught collecting extortion money with two accomplices from a local businessman.98

After the death, Majumder’s father received anonymous warnings not to file a complaint.  He tried to file a case with the local police nevertheless, but a police official named Tharikul Islam told him that no complaints could be filed against RAB.

To date, no RAB members are known to have been held accountable for Majumder’s death.  According to Lokman, a court sentenced him to three years in prison and Pinku to two.  Both were acquitted on appeal and released in July 2005.

On April 16, 2005, a Dhaka court sentenced 22 people to death and six others to life imprisonment for murdering the Awami League MP Ahsan Ullah Master—the highest number of capital punishments ever handed down at one time in Bangladesh.  Twelve of the convicted men were in custody, while the 16 others were tried in absentia and remained at large.99

Killing of Anisur Rahman

On October 1, 2004, in Dhaka, members of RAB-4 arrested Anisur Rahman, a local leader of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), the BNP’s student wing, together with two friends.  RAB released the two friends after a brief detention but transferred Rahman to the hospital on October 2, where he died from wounds apparently suffered in detention.

The 27-year-old Rahman was an organizing secretary of the JCD’s ward No. 47 unit and a Dhaka City Corporation contractor from the area of Mohammadpur.  The reasons for his arrest and apparent death in custody remain unclear.  RAB claimed he was a criminal, but a local member of parliament and the victim’s relatives said he was innocent of any crime.100  According to Ain o Salish Kendra, which investigated the case, RAB was actually searching for Anisur’s older brother Sohel, who is a businessman and central committee member of the JCD.101

The arrest took place around 2:30 a.m. as Rahman and his friends Rubel and Jahangir were leaving the Chhata mosque near Rahman’s home in Mohammadpur. The RAB-4 team proceeded to Rahman’s home, two witnesses said, where they searched the premises without a warrant.102  RAB found nothing and left.

Relatives began to search for Rahman later that day.  Guards at RAB-4 in Mirpur Paikpara confirmed they were holding Rahman but they did not allow anyone to visit.

On October 2, RAB conducted a second search of the Rahman home, with Rubel and Jahangir in tow, again without a warrant.  A witness said he overheard a RAB-4 officer, Sub Inspector Ali Hossain, tell a family member that Rahman would be “taken out.”103  The officers found nothing in the house and left.

That afternoon, around 5:45, RAB transferred Rahman to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital.  According to a press report, Sub Inspector Ali Hossain stated at the time that Rahman was a criminal and that he had passed out from fear.104

When relatives and friends visited Rahman at the hospital on October 3, they found him guarded by RAB members in the intensive care unit.105 Doctors said he had suffered brain damage and an injured kidney and that they could do nothing to save his life.  According to one man who was present, a doctor said that Rahman was injured from torture.

RAB prevented visitors from approaching Rahman, but one visitor told Human Rights Watch that he saw bruises on several parts of Rahman’s body, in particular on the legs, and swelling of the fingers.

Rahman died around 10 p.m. on October 4. Following his death, a witness who spoke with Human Rights Watch said he observed RAB Sub Inspector Ali Hossain and Captain Iqbal remove Rahman’s documents from the hospital file.

The hospital gave the family the body on October 5.  An autopsy had been conducted and the body was in a plastic bag.  The family has not filed a criminal complaint about the death.

On December 21, 2004, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions requested information about Rahman’s death.  As of November 2006, the Bangladeshi government had not replied.106

Killing of Abul Kalam Azad Sumon

On May 30, 2005, RAB forces arrested three young men in Dhaka.  They released two of the men 30 days later but killed the third, Abul Kalam Azad Sumon, an active member of the Awami League’s student wing.  According to RAB, he was a notorious criminal who died in “crossfire” with an armed gang.  His family and local human rights groups allege that RAB extrajudicially executed him in detention.

According to witnesses and the victim’s family, Sumon, age 22, left his home around 9 p.m. to go to work.  Sumon was an accountant at a local cable operator called Lorel International in East Goran of Dhaka’s Khilgaon district, and he went to the office every night to close the books.

Shortly after Sumon arrived, one of his colleagues said, three men in civilian clothes came to his office on the first floor.107  Two of the men revealed guns and asked the four employees and two visitors present to identify themselves.  One of the men took three vests with “RAB” printed on the back from a shoulder bag, and the three men put them on.  They handcuffed Sumon and two other employees, Hanif and Bidyut.  The RAB forces blindfolded Sumon and Hanif, but not Bidyut, and took the three men outside, saying they had been searching for the men in relation to hidden arms.

Around 10 p.m. Sumon’s parents got information that RAB had arrested their only son, and Sumon’s father Abdul Hakim and his mother Amela Khatun set out to find him.108  They visited the local police station in Khilgaon and the head office of the Detective Branch near Minto Road, where officers suggested they contact RAB-3, the RAB unit in charge of Khilgaon.

Around 2:30 a.m. the parents reached the RAB-3 office at Tikatuli where, while talking to the guard, they saw their son sitting in the back of a white minibus about five meters inside the compound. He was blindfolded, Abdul Hakim told Human Rights Watch, and he looked semi-conscious.

A RAB-3 official initially denied that RAB had Sumon in custody, but he then said that RAB would transfer Sumon to the Khilgaon police station in the morning.  Shortly thereafter, Sumon’s parents saw the RAB vehicle leave the station and drive south towards Sayedabad.  Around 5:00 a.m. Abdul Hakim went to the Khilgaon police station, where he saw a police van with the dead body of his son lying in the back.  The police handed the body over to the family that night around 8 a.m.  The body had several bullet wounds in the chest, as well as signs of torture, Abdul Hakim said.

A relative of Sumon who was present when an autopsy was conducted at Dhaka Medical College and who prepared Sumon’s body for funeral told Human Rights Watch that he saw severe bruises on Sumon’s legs, under his feet, and on his back.  He saw a gash on his forehead, and the cheek bones were broken on both sides.  There were six bullet wounds in his chest and upper abdomen, and two more in the right arm.109

Human Rights Watch viewed a copy of the magistrate’s body exam that was largely consistent with the relative’s claim, reporting six bullet wounds, a half-inch cut above the nose and a quarter-inch cut above the left eyebrow.

On May 31 RAB issued a statement saying that, in a fierce gun battle around 3:30 that morning, RAB forces had shot and killed a notorious criminal named Goailya Sumon, who had murdered two men in Khilgaon.  RAB struck the victim with bullets three times in the head and chest when he tried to escape the scene during a shootout.110  Some media, however, suggested that Goailya Sumon and Abul Kalam Azad Sumon were two different people, with the former being the criminal.  The officer in charge at the Khilgaon police station, for example, said his station had no cases against any Sumon and the Sabujbagh police said Goailya Sumon was accused of three cases, including one for murder.111

The family questioned how RAB could have killed their son at 3:30 in the morning when they had arrested him from his office around 9 the previous night.  “RAB has just cooked up a reason for killing him,” Sumon’s mother told the press.  “They arrested him at 9:30 p.m. and I saw him in the jeep at 2:30 a.m., so how could he commit a robbery the same night at 3 a.m.?”112

After Sumon’s death, his parents attempted to file a complaint with the Khilgaon police station, but officers at the station refused to register the case, they said.113  On July 6, Sumon’s mother instead filed a case with the Dhaka court against Home Minister Babar, Home Secretary Safar Raj Hossain, RAB Director General Abdul Aziz Sarkar, several RAB-3 officers and a leader of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (the BNP’s student wing). The judge ordered a judicial inquiry into Sumon’s death.114  The case was ongoing at this writing.

According to Sumon’s father, the family has received repeated threats from visitors in civilian clothes, and anonymous phone calls. They warned him not to pursue the case and that he would face the same fate as his son if he does.  On March 18, 2006, Abdul Hakim said, the police detained him without explanation and beat him with a large baton.  Four days later he showed Human Rights Watch dark and large bruises on both legs and the right arm.

According to Sumon’s parents, their son was killed because he had recently switched from the youth league of the BNP to the Awami League.  On May 6, they said, while distributing leaflets about a proposed overpass being built in their neighborhood, a local Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal leader threatened Sumon that he would teach him “a good lesson.”  “But even if he had been a criminal, he should have been judged by a court—not by RAB,” Sumon’s mother said.115

The other two men arrested with Sumon, Hanif and Bidyut, were released without charge after having spent about a month in detention.

Killing of Iman Ali

On March 8, 2006, RAB forces in Dhaka arrested Md. Masudur Rahman (known as Iman Ali), a businessman and local leader of the Jubo League (youth wing of the Awami League).  His body was found the next morning in a field near his home with bullet wounds and signs of torture.

According to Iman Ali’s uncle, who witnessed the arrest, Iman Ali was leaving the Dhaka court around noon on March 8 when a man with a black beard, wearing a white punjabi (long shirt) and a cap, told Iman Ali that he had to come with him.116  Iman Ali replied that he was in a hurry but the man opened the top buttons of his punjabi and showed something that the uncle assumed was an ID.  Six or seven other men gathered and Iman Ali went with them into a white minibus parked nearby.

Concerned for Iman Ali’s safety, the uncle and other family members visited the police stations in Kotwali and Savar, near their home, as well as the offices of RAB-1, RAB-2, RAB-3, RAB-10, and, finally, RAB-4.  At each station they were only able to speak with the guard, who said he had no information about the apparent arrest.  At RAB-4 the guard said the family should return between 7 and 8 that evening.

According to Iman Ali’s brother, Md. Nazrul Islam, who was part of the group visiting the stations, around 7 p.m. the family returned to RAB-4, which was then under the command of one Lt Col. Humayun.117  Officers at the station said the family should return in one hour.  The family returned at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., but the station still had no information.

Around 6 the next morning workers from the nearby Panna Textile Mill in the Savar district, about 30 kilometers northwest of Dhaka, arrived at the family’s home.  According to Nazrul Islam, they said that RAB had murdered Iman Ali and RAB forces were guarding his body near the mill, about one kilometer from the house.

The family went to the mill and saw a group of agitated people yelling at approximately 10 policemen and 16 members of RAB.  Some were screaming that they had killed Iman Ali.  The RAB forces were yelling back at the people, and hitting some of them with fists or their rifle butts.  They arrested one man and tied him up but released him after an hour.  As the crowd grew, up to 60 RAB members arrived.

Nearby, in an open field a few hundred meters from the nearest house and road, the family saw Iman Ali’s dead body lying face up.  Nazrul Islam did not inspect the body closely but he saw bullet wounds in Iman Ali’s chest, and blood on his shirt.

Others who saw the body gave a consistent account.  “There were three bullet hits in Iman’s chest, but surprisingly none of the bullets went through the shirt he was wearing,” an unnamed security guard at the textile mill who saw the body told the press.118  There was no sign of a struggle in the area, the guard said, suggesting that Iman Ali had been killed somewhere else.

Human Rights Watch interviewed one non-family member who saw the body.  He said that, in addition to the bullet wounds, Iman Ali had no skin on the left side of his back, as if he had been burned.  His fingers looked broken and swollen and he had a hole in his right big toe.119

The police took the body to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital and returned it to the family later that day, although the police did not provide a copy of the autopsy report.  While preparing the body for funeral, Nazrul Islam said, the family saw three bullet wounds in Iman Ali’s chest, as well as other wounds that they attributed to torture.  The body had no skin on the back, shoulders, and part of the right arm.  There were holes in the tips of both big toes, as if someone had hammered a nail.  The left cheek was black and blue around the eye and ear.  Except for the thumbs, all of the fingers were swollen and bruised.

RAB issued a press release giving its side of the story.  Acting on a tip-off, a team of RAB-4 had arrested the “top terror Iman Ali” around 2:15 p.m. on March 8, the statement said.  During interrogation, Iman Ali confessed to having a large cache of arms and ammunition and that his accomplices were preparing “some major kind of crime.”  The statement continued,

A team of RAB-4, on March 9, 2006, around 4:35, with Iman Ali, went near Akrain Panna Textiles Mill in Birulia Union under Savar Thana when a group of unidentified criminals started indiscriminately shooting at RAB members who, in self defense and in order to save public property, started firing back.  At one point while the shootout was going on terrorist Iman Ali tried to use the chance and escape, thus he came in the line of fire of both the shooting parties.  After the exchange of fire was over, RAB searched the area and saw Iman Ali bullet ridden and dead.120

Human Rights Watch spoke with two people from the area who said they heard several shots in the early morning of March 9.  One of the people, a guard at a nearby factory, said that RAB officers came to the factory around 5:50 a.m. and asked the guards to identify the body.121

According to Nazrul Islam, RAB forces had yet to return some items Iman Ali had in his possession at the time of arrest, including two gold rings, a gold chain, a mobile phone, and about 20,000 taka (about US$300) that he was carrying to pay for his son’s schooling.  A RAB-4 official, Maj. Samad (identified as the acting director), told the press that his forces would return all of Iman Ali’s belongings.122

The reason for Iman Ali’s apparent murder remains unknown, but it is possibly due to his political activity in the Awami League’s youth wing, and in particular his advocacy on behalf of poor villagers engaged in a land dispute.  In Miton and Rajason villages near Iman Ali’s home the government had recently leased 10 acres to a man named Mirza Hafizur Rahman, who is a cousin of State Minister of Home Affairs Lutfozzaman Babar.123  According to Rahman, the property was without title but residents said they owned the property because they and their forebears had been living there for more than 100 years.  Facing eviction, in February the local residents held rallies, with a big demonstration on February 21, at which Iman Ali spoke.  “He spoke very strongly against the injustice the government was perpetrating against minorities,” said one person who heard Iman Ali speak.124  About 35 families in Miton are Christian, the person said.125  According to press reports, about 500 families in Miton face eviction, 30 of whom are members of the Dhaka Catholic Archdiocese’s Dharenda Church.126

Iman Ali had had problems with the authorities before, family members said.  In recent years, the police had charged him with 12 different crimes, and he had been acquitted of 11.  He was dealing with the final case on the day he was arrested, his uncle and brother said.  The RAB press release on his death mentions 10 cases dating back to 1994, including three for murder.  According to the family, the frequent charges were the government’s attempt to harass and intimidate Iman Ali. Iman Ali also had a previous history of encounters with RAB. On November 15, 2005, RAB officers from the Magbazar unit of RAB-2, under the command of Maj. Kurban Ali, detained Imam Ali on charges of illegal possession of arms, the family said.  They held him for two days before transferring him to the police, who detained him for another 20 days.

Iman Ali’s family tried to file a complaint about his death with the Savar police station, but the police refused to accept the complaint, Nazral Islam said.  Instead, Islam brought charges against State Minister for Home Affairs Babar, his cousins Mirza Hafizur Rahman and Mirza Nurul Islam, Director General of RAB Adbul Aziz Sarker, and 49 others, including Khoda Baksh, then an additional inspector general in the Criminal Investigation Department (who became RAB director general on October 31, 2006).127  A lower court dismissed the case on March 22 due to a technicality, but a second court accepted the case after the family re-filed.128  Two months later the court set a June 5 date for a hearing on the acceptability of the case.129 Human Rights Watch has no information on the case’s current status.

52 “Criminals Rap RAB,” Daily Star, June 26, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

53 “Pichchi Hannan Sent to Jail,” Daily Star, June 28, 2006, (accessed December 1, 2006).

54 “Pichchi Hannan Killed in RAB Custody at Savar,” Bangladesh Observer, August 7, 2004.

55 “‘Pichchi’ Hannan Killed in ‘Crossfire,’” Daily Star, August 7, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

56 Ibid.

57 Abul Kalam Azad and Arif Newaz Farazi, “Change of Underworld Guard,” New Age, July 9, 2005, (accessed October 2, 2006).

58 “Police to Probe All RAB Custodial Deaths,” Daily Star, August 9, 2004, (accessed November 4, 2006).

59 See generally, Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, E.S.C. res. 1989/65, annex, 1989 U.N. ESCOR Supp. (No. 1) at 52, U.N. Doc. E/1989/89 (1989).

60 “Moudud Rejects HR Violation Allegations,” Daily Star, December 1, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006).  According to the database compiled by Human Rights Watch, RAB killed 82 people in total through December 31, 2004.

61 “AL Leaders Slate Deaths in RAB ‘Crossfire,’” Daily Star, November 30, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006).

62 Shamim Ashraf, “Extra-judicial Killings Call for Unbiased Probe,” Daily Star, May 21, 2005, (accessed October 4, 2006), and Sultana Fauzia, “Extra-judicial Killing: a Dissection,” Weekly Holiday (Dhaka), June 10, 2005, (accessed October 4, 2006).

63 “Bangladesh Family Challenges New Security Force Over Son’s ‘Crossfire’ Death,” Agence France-Presse, July 30, 2005.

64 On March 27, 2006, the Supreme Court Bar Association demanded judicial investigations into 204 extrajudicial killings by RAB attributed to “encounter” and “crossfire” over the previous two years. See “Supreme Court Bar Association Demands Judicial Probe,” The Independent, March 28, 2006, and “SC Bar Demands Judicial Probe into ‘Crossfire’ Killings,” Bangladesh News, March 28, 2006.

65 Nurul Kabir, “National Award Won’t Rubber Stamp Notional Legitimacy,” New Age, March 27, 2006.

66 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Dhaka, May 20, 2006.

67 Ibid.

68 “Ctg BCL Leader Killed in Crossfire by RAB,” Bangladesh Observer, November 30, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006), “BCL Central Leader, Two Others Killed in Crossfire,” Daily Star, November 29, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006), and “BCL Agitates at Ctg to Protest Mohim Killing,” Daily Star, December 5, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006).

69 Human Rights Watch interview with Giashuddin Mohim, Chittagong, May 26, 2006.

70 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Chittagong, May 26, 2006.

71 “JCD Leader Killed in Crossfire at Hathazari,” Bangladesh Observer, December 1, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006), and “‘Crossfire’ Kills 4,” Daily Star, December 1, 2004, (accessed October 4, 2006).

72 “RAB-Killing,” United News of Bangladesh, December 1, 2004.

73 “RAB Nabs Ctg Top Terror,” Daily Star, September 11, 2004, (accessed October 5, 2006).

74 Human Rights Watch interviews, Chittagong, May 26-27, 2006.

75 “Eight Bullets Put End to Ahmudya Episode,” Daily Star, (accessed October 5, 2006).

76 Sheikh Nasir Ahmed, “Former Jamaat Leader’s Death in RAB Custody,” published in Ain o Salish Kendra, “RAB: Eradicating Crime or Crimes of the State?”  2005, (accessed December 6, 2006).

77 “Criminals Rap RAB,” Daily Star, June 26, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

78 “Pichchi Hannan Sent to Jail,” Daily Star, June 28, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

79 “Mystery Shrouds Death of 2 Alleged Criminals,” Bangladesh Observer, June 28, 2004.

80 Human Rights Watch interview with Gazi Siddiquee, Dhaka, April 30, 2006.

81 “Mystery Shrouds Death of 2 Alleged Criminals,” Bangladesh Observer, June 28, 2004.

82 Ibid.

83 Human Rights Watch interview with Gajendra Kumar Das, Dhaka, April 30, 2006.

84 See Waliur Rahman, “Top Bangladeshi Politician Killed,” BBC News Online, May 7, 2004, (accessed September 27, 2006).  The gunmen also killed another man, Omar Faruq Ratan, and wounded 17.  See Chaitanya Chandra Halder, Shamim Ashraf, and Shameem Mahmud, “22 to Walk Gallows for Killing Ahsanullah,” Daily Star, April 17, 2005, (accessed October 5, 2006).

85“Suman’s Killing Protested,” Bangladesh Observer, July 18, 2004, (accessed October 3, 2006), and “Ahsanullah Murder Witness Dies in Police Custody,” Weekly Holiday, July 23, 2004, (accessed October 3, 2006). In April 2005 a Dhaka judge sentenced 22 people to death for Ahsan Ullah Master’s murder, including a leader of the BNP youth wing.  See “22 Sentenced to Death for Killing Ahsanullah Master,” Weekly Holiday, April 22, 2005, (accessed November 9, 2006).

86 Human Rights Watch interview with Solema Ahmed Majumder, Dhaka, March 20, 2006.

87 One of the 22 men sentenced to death for Ahsan Ullah Master’s murder was Mohamed Ali, but it is not clear whether he is the brother of Abdul Ali.  See “22 Sentenced to Death for Killing Ahsanullah Master,” Weekly Holiday.

88 Odhikar, “Report 2004, Project on Investigation, Research and Publication of Human Rights Violations,” 2004, p. 59.

89 Human Rights Watch interview with Lokman, Dhaka, March 20, 2006.

90 Human Rights Watch interview with Monir Ahmed Majumder, Dhaka, March 20, 2006.

91 Odhikar, “Report 2004, Project on Investigation, Research and Publication of Human Rights Violations,” 2004, p. 59.

92 “Witness to Ahsanullah Murder Dies Hours After RAB Arrest,” Daily Star, July 17, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

93 Sheikh Nasir Ahmed, “Main Witness in Ahsanullah Master Murder Case Killed by RAB,” published in Ain o Salish Kendra, “RAB: Eradicating Crime or Crimes of the State?” 2005.  Sections of the report are available in English at (accessed December 6, 2006).

94 Sub Inspector Rafqul Islam mentioned by ASK and Sub Inspector Rafiq mentioned by Odhikar are probably the same person.

95 Odhikar, “Report 2004, Project on Investigation, Research and Publication of Human Rights Violations,” 2004, p. 60.

96 Human Rights Watch interview with Moher Asman Majumder, Dhaka, March 20, 2006.

97 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdus Salam, Dhaka, March 20, 2006.

98 “Death of Sumon Creates Serious Resentment,” Bangladesh Observer, July 18, 2004.  According to this article, RAB complained that on June 18 a gang led by Mojumder, Lokman, and Pinku beat the employees of Alfa Engineering Products in Tongi to extort money from the owner, Tazul Islam Akanda.

99 Chaitanya Chandra Halder, Shamim Ashraf, and Shameem Mahmud, “22 to Walk Gallows for Killing Ahsanullah,” Daily Star, April 17, 2005, (accessed October 5, 2006).

100 “City JCD Leader Dies in RAB Custody,” Daily Star, October 5, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

101 Shah Alam Faruk, “Former Student Leader Dies in RAB Custody,” published in Ain o Salish Kendra, “RAB: Eradicating Crime or Crimes of the State?” 2005, (accessed December 6, 2006).

102 Human Rights Watch interviews, Dhaka, March 29, 2006.

103 Ibid.

104 “City JCD Leader Dies in RAB Custody,” Daily Star, October 5, 2004, (accessed December 1, 2006).

105 Human Rights Watch interviews, Dhaka, March 29, 2006.

106 Commission on Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, Including the Question of Disappearances and Summary Executions, Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Report of the Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.1, March 27, 2006.

107 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Dhaka, March 22, 2006.

108 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Hakim, Dhaka, March 22, 2006.

109 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Dhaka, March 22, 2006.

110 “2 Alleged Gangsters Killed in Encounters with RAB-Police,” Bangladesh Observer, June 1, 2005, and Shariful Islam and Shaheen Mollah, “Rab’s ‘Shootout’ Claim Shrouded in Questions,” Daily Star, June 1, 2005, (accessed December 1, 2006).

111 Shariful Islam and Shaheen Mollah, “Rab’s ‘Shootout’ Claim Shrouded in Questions,” Daily Star, (accessed December 1, 2006).

112 “Bangladesh Family Challenges New Security Force Over Son’s ‘Crossfire’ Death,” Agence France-Presse, July 30, 2005.

113 See also “Khilgaon Police Refuse to Register Case Against RAB,” Daily Star, June 5, 2005, (accessed December 1, 2006).

114 “Mother Files Murder Case Against Ministers, RAB men,” Daily Star, June 7, 2005, (accessed December 1, 2006).

115 “Bangladesh Family Challenges New Security Force Over Son’s ‘Crossfire’ Death,” Agence France-Presse.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with Ishaq Miah, Dhaka, March 16, 2006.

117 Human Rights Watch interview with Nazrul Islam, Dhaka, March 16, 2006.

118 Shariful Islam, “Jubo League Leader’s Death; Intact Shirt Saps Crossfire Claim,” Daily Star, March 13, 2006, (accessed December 1, 2006).

119 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, March 16, 2006.

120 “Listed Gangster, Extortionist, Killer and Land Grabber Md. Iman Ali aka Masud Pervez Dies in a Shootout with RAB-4; Arms and Ammunition Recovered,” RAB press release, March 2006.

121 Human Rights Watch interviews, names withheld, March 16, 2006.

122 Shariful Islam, “Jubo League Leader’s Death; Intact Shirt Saps Crossfire Claim,” Daily Star, March 13, 2006, (accessed December 1, 2006).

123 According to one press account, Mirza Hafizur Rahman owns a company called Bangladesh-Thai Multiple Agro-Fisheries Private Ltd.  State Minister Lutfozzaman Babar denied any involvement in the affair.  See “Villagers Feel Helpless Before Cops, Goons,” Daily Star, February 20, 2006, (accessed December 1, 2006).

124 Human Rights Watch interview, name withheld, Dhaka, May 20, 2006.

125 On February 10, 2006, the police arrested another local activist, Nurul Haq, accusing him of links to the banned Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh. They released him about 10 days later.  See “Villagers Feel Helpless Before Cops, Goons,” Daily Star, (accessed December 1, 2006). Around the same time, police searched the home of two other men, Amol Palma and Atul Palma, who had challenged the lease in court. According to the press, villagers complained that police and hired goons patrolled the area at night, forcing men in the villages to sleep away from home.

126 “Bangladesh Eviction Protest Crosses Religious Lines,” Catholic News Service, March 6, 2006, (accessed October 5, 2006).

127 “Court Does Not Accept Case Against Babar,” Daily Star, March 23, 2006, (accessed November 8, 2006).

128 “Dhaka Court Takes Up Murder Case Against Babar,” Daily Star, March 29, 2006, (accessed December 1, 2006).

129 “Hearing on Acceptability of Case June 5,” Daily Star, May 24, 2006, (accessed December 1, 2006).