I started this article to write about all the talking that the Prime Minister, The Home Minister and all the mini ministers have been doing about catching the murderers who have killed four talented bloggers and writers.
They simply talk, talk, and talk. I assumed the talk is just a way to hide the incompetence and the impotence of the government and Law Enforcement agencies. Incompetence itself is not a crime but holding on to positions of power while being incompetent is probably a close cousin to criminal behavior.
But, today my naiveté was shattered. There was this Press Conference by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Hoque in Dhaka. What he said is both stunning in terms of shifting blame and also reveals the underlying philosophical construct which takes their lack of action from mere incompetence to a studied absence of action.
This means they let the killings go on with a wink and nod. Based on the interview it is clear to me that these murderers of the bloggers including Avijit and Niloy will never be caught. No one is looking for the killers, period.
“There will always be free thinkers. I have enough respect for them. But we need to remember that hurting religious sentiments is a crime according to our law. Any offender of religious beliefs may get the highest punishment of 14 years (in jail). But killing someone for that offence is never acceptable”, so said the IGP, trying to shift the blame to the victim.
He equates the victim to an offender in order to hide the unmitigated incompetence of the Bangladesh Police Force. What a shame! Mr. Hoque is of course referring to Section 295A of Bangladesh Penal Code (1860).
The code states, “Any person who has a deliberate or malicious intent of hurting religious sentiments is liable to imprisonment”. That is the Law that the IGP is invoking to shift the blame and cover the incompetence of his force. Before we look at the IGP and his rants on victim-blaming, let’s take a quick look at this Section 295A.
It says anyone who has a malicious and deliberate intent will be liable to prison terms. The keyword, of course, is intent. There is a wide world of interpretations for intent. Let us take a look at few examples:
- In 2007, the government banned the Eid issue of the weekly Shaptahik 2000because of a blasphemous reference in an autobiographical article by Daud Haider.
- In 2005, Mohd Rafiqul Islam Rony, MP laid a complaint against professor Ali Asghar for causing hurt to religious sentiment by his alleged remark that religious instruction need not be compulsory.
- In 2002, the police arrested the members of an amateur theater group in Faridpur, among whom were Hindus, for “causing hurt to religious sentiment” by their play.
- In 2002, the Bangladesh Censor Board banned Tareque Masud and Catherine Masud’s film Matir Moina (The Clay Bird) because its setting is a Madrasa.
- In 2000, criminals killed Monir Hossain Sagar (of Delduar in Tangail), the author of the book Nari Tumi Manush Chhile Kobey. The killers claimed that the book had indecent remarks about Allah and Prophet Mohammed.
So, religious sentiment is hurt if someone says, there is no need for compulsory religious education, or if you are Hindu participating in a play. In the book by Monir Hossain Sagar, I could not find any indecent remarks about Allah or the Prophet. I found the thing to be boring and interminably meandering. Must be an interpretational issue!
So, who decides what is intentionally indecent to religion, Allah, and Mohammed? The IGP and his force is going to go hide behind this silly law and shift blame to the victims.
There is, of course, the issue of incompetence and the Police’s inability to catch these murderers. All of the killers that killed Avijit, Oyasiqur Rahman, and now Niloy, are trained in the very specific art of killing people using the Bengali version of machete. They know to go for the neck, head, and other vital areas of the body. These killers are trained, their targets are selected in advance by their handlers, they are given the place of attack and they do meticulous intelligence gathering.
These are not random criminals who commit crimes of opportunity. They are driven by ideology. The Bangladesh Police Force is obviously not equipped to handle these sorts of ideological criminals.
It takes courage to accept one’s weakness and ask for help. I think the Government of Bangladesh needs to acknowledge that it has a huge capability deficiency in terms of pursuing these criminals. As opposed to shifting blame to the victims it is time to ask for and accept help.
Bangladesh needs an intelligence gathering unit singularly focused on these murderers and their handlers. This is an intelligence gathering game as opposed to press conferences and RAB-like random brutality. What needs to happen is for Bangladesh to sign on to the long game. It took some 13 years to hunt down Bin Laden and it took FBI and NY Police 30 years of intelligence gathering, arrests, and disruptions to dismantle the MAFIA in the US.
The one thing FBI and other agencies excel in is gathering intelligence and connecting the dots. In order to confront the murderers who are killing people in order to silence their voices, Bangladesh Law Enforcement should seek help from acknowledged experts in the matter of intelligence-gathering and hunting down of these murderers.
I am sure the US government will be more than happy to train, equip, and partially fund such a group if the Bangladesh government would request such help. It is time to abandon false pride and accept that the burden is too heavy to carry and get some professional help.
The danger is that, any group or agency which work in the shadows and have fair amount of power can easily turn their power against the very people it is supposed to protect. Herein lies the quandary. We must insulate this agency from the partisan influence that is so very pervasive in Bangladesh but at the same time have tight oversight on the activities of the group. The only way that can be ensured is some sort of International oversight committee.
That may bring out the nationalists among us to condemn such as arrangement as impinging on Bangladesh’s sovereignty. However, it is the probably the safest way to get things moving. In short, I am proposing that Bangladesh seeks help from the US in forming a highly trained specialised group with a time limited mandate (10 years) to hunt down the Jihadists. In order to avoid Human Rights violations, this group will be under International supervision for its duration. Yes, this is not ideal but we need to annihilate the Jihadists who will not stop short of destroying the fabric of the country.
Kayes Ahmed is a businessman running multi-national operations from Colorado, USA.