Bangladesh is a Southeast Asian country

Bloody drug war in Bangladesh

Bloody drug war in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the authorities have started a tough fight against drug-related crime, as the Philippines have been doing since 2016.

108 dead and over 10,000 arrested: That is the sad result of the first two weeks of an anti-drug campaign in Bangladesh. On May 4th, the Prime Minister of the Southeast Asian country, Sheikh Hasina Wazed, declared that security forces would have a free hand to crack down on dealers and consumers of the methamphetamine and caffeine cocktail known as Yaba. The fight against drugs must be carried out with the same intransigence as the fight against the terrorist militia Islamic State, which is gaining a foothold in Bangladesh, said Sheikh Hasina.

Task forces across the country are now hunting down alleged drug smugglers. If you believe the official announcements, the raids always follow the same pattern: A special unit approaches, the dealers and drug addicts caught open fire, the police shoot back. In the end, some civilians are dead and many more are arrested. In the meantime, however, there are increasing voices who say that the drug war, the methods of which the Bangladeshi government seems to have copied from the Philippines, is not right. In the Philippines, an estimated 20,000 people have been killed in a brutal security forces war against drug traffickers since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016. Many of the victims appear to be completely innocent.

The situation has worsened since the Rohingya crisis

In the case of Bangladesh, too, human rights activists warn that state-appointed death squads would kill unhindered and arbitrarily. "The security forces have a free hand and are prosecutors, judges and executors in one," tweeted the prominent blogger Pinaki Bhattacharya. Human Rights Watch warned that the police and the army would operate in an uncontrolled manner.

The fact that Dhaka has now unleashed its counter-terrorism-focused Rapid Action Battalion on dealers and junkies is because Bangladesh is actually grappling with a massive drug problem. Of the approximately 166 million inhabitants, up to 7 million, mostly young Bangalans, are said to be dependent on Yaba. Within just ten years, Bangladesh has become one of the largest sales markets for the drug, which is primarily produced in northern Burma. The drug is cooked in small laboratories in Wa state and then brought to Bangladesh by smugglers across the border river Naf, the United Nations Office for Narcotics Crime describes the origin of the substance related to crystal meth.

The drug crisis has intensified acutely since last summer because many of the members of the Muslim Rohingya minority who fled across the border into Bangladesh were bringing drugs with them from Myanmar, say the Bangladeshi police. Since last August, around 700,000 Rohingya have been forcibly expelled from their homeland and fled to the neighboring country via the border river Naf. Many were crossed on the boats of drug smugglers. The refugees would be exempted from the cost of the crossing if they agreed to take pills across the border, the police said.

Nine million pills confiscated

The smuggling and distribution of yaba are one of the few sources of income for the refugees who are not allowed to work in Bangladesh, says Jamaluddin Ahmed, head of the narcotics control agency in Dhaka. However, he warned against blaming the Rohingya for the crisis. "You are a victim of the circumstances," said Ahmed, who instead sees the Burmese government as responsible. "As early as November 2017, we officially presented Burma with a list of 45 drug laboratories - but hardly anything happened."

The Bangladeshi police have confiscated nine million yaba pills in the past three months alone. Nevertheless, large quantities of the substance still reach the Bangalore market: The prices for Yaba have fallen by up to 50 percent since the beginning of the refugee crisis, say the investigators.