Bangladesh’s human rights record has taken a battering in recent months.
First there was the textile factory fire last December that killed over 100 people. Then, in April, there was the Rana Plaza nightmare that killed over 1,100 people and wounded around 2,500 others. While many are still missing under the building’s rubble, many badly injured survivors, faced with crippling poverty, returned to work in similar factories only weeks later.
Although less covered in the international press, Bangladesh has been gripped by frequent protests since February 2013 when a domestic court was convened to prosecute individuals for alleged war crimes that took place during the country’s liberation war in 1971. Those being charged with war crimes, however, were almost exclusively members of the Jamaat-e-Islami Party, which has prompted Jamaat supporters to take the streets in protest.
This has resulted in frequent clashes with the Bangladesh’s security forces, including the police, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB). Violence has been a regular occurrence with the security forces cracking down on the protestors.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch released a new report this week—“Blood On The Streets: The Use of Excessive Force During Bangladesh Protests—documenting the security forces abuses. The report is based on 95 interviews HRW conducted with victims of the violence and their family members, witnesses, human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers. The report claims that since the protests began in February, at least 150 protesters have been killed and over 2,000 others have been injured.
One story that struck me as particularly tragic was that of Naziuddin, a middle-age farmer currently on the run as a fugitive. Naziuddin is not wanted by the police because he was one of the people that took to the streets to demand justice over the war tribunal. No, Naziuddin is wanted in the shooting death of his 12-year old grandson, Syed.
Speaking with HRW in Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, Naziuddin relates the string of events that left him as a fugitive and without his grandson Syed. According to Naziuddin, on February 28—the bloodiest day of the protests so far— he dropped his grandson off at the Madrassa and went off to his job as a farmer in his village.
Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, an Islamic leader linked to Jamaat, was on trial that day and he was soon found guilty and sentenced to death for his alleged crimes in the war. After the verdict was handed down “hundreds” of Jamaat supporters took to the streets to protest. More protestors continued to join them.
“When we heard the procession we went to watch from a distance,” Naziuddin tells HRW.
Soon the protestors became unruly and started vandalizing shops in the village. This brought the police and members of the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) to the scene. At first the BGB held back as the police clashed with protestors. When the police were unable to subdue the protestors, however, they called in the BGB for reinforcements.
According to Naziuddin, the BGB drove up in trucks and, without warning, began firing into the crowd. Naziuddin, like everyone else, fled the scene for safety. When the shooting finally stopped he returned to the scene to link back up with Syed, his grandson, who had also been watching the protests from afar. When he arrived, however, he found Syed had been shot and killed in the mayhem. Syed was the youngest of the six individuals who died that day; 50 others were injured. Naziuddin fainted upon seeing Syed.
Neither Naziuddin nor any other family member reported Syed’s death to the police, certain that no justice would be rendered out for his grandson. But the next day Naziuddin and his brother learned that not only would Bangladesh not hold the BGB forces responsible for the death of their grandchild, but in fact the government was charging them with his murder.
In fact, 50 villagers had been charged for the six deaths that occurred at the hands of the security forces that day. Many were family members of the victims. Naziuddin and his family have been on the run ever since.
Zachary Keck is assistant editor of The Diplomat. He is on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.