DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh police have killed at least 86 people and arrested about 7,000 since launching a crackdown on drug trafficking this month, officials said, raising fears from rights activists of a Philippines-style war on drugs.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina approved the anti-narcotics campaign in early May to tackle the spread of ya ba, as methamphetamine is widely known in Asia, and worth an estimated $3 billion annually, government officials say.
The drug is sourced from Myanmar’s northeast and smuggled into neighbouring Bangladesh.
“In recent times, drug dealing has increased and we feel that people should be alert and motivated to act against it,” Devdas Bhattacharya, a senior police official, told reporters.
He said police arrested six people on Sunday, including a 12-year-old boy from Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community, who carried 3,350 ya ba tablets to the capital, Dhaka.
Bangladesh has said an influx last year of Rohingya fleeing Buddhist-majority Myanmar is partly to blame for soaring methamphetamine use. But many Rohingya say their young people are being pushed into crime because they cannot legally work or, in many cases, get access to aid.
The 86 deaths occurred when police defended themselves in confrontations with suspected drug traffickers, said Mufti Mahmud Khan, a director of the police Rapid Action Battalion.
Human rights activists are worried the Bangladesh campaign is taking a page from the Philippine drugs war, in which thousands of people have been killed in the past two years.
“The Sheikh Hasina government says it is a protector of human rights, so it should reform its domestic record, set an example, instead of wishing to be compared to an abusive regime,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
Ganguly said the government “should heed concerns and allegations by families and activists that several of these deaths could be extrajudicial killings”.