Border guards die in custody in Bangladesh

Four detained border guards have died in Bangladesh in the past two weeks. Amnesty international has called on the country’s authorities to institute an independent, impartial and competent body to investigate the deaths.  
The four members of Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) were among hundreds of detained BDR personnel interrogated on suspicion of involvement in the killing of more than 70 people, including at least 55 army officers, during a two-day BDR mutiny in February.

Nayek subedar Mozammel Haq died on 9 March; BDR personnel Waheduzzaman died on 15 March; sepoy Monir Hossain died on 17 March and Lance nayek Mobarak Hossain died in custody on 22 March. It is not clear if they were in the custody of the army or the police when they died.

There are credible reports suggesting that these detainees may have died as a result of torture. Government officials have said the first two committed suicide and the other two died of heart attacks. However, hospital sources have noted that the wrists, arms, knees and shoulders of the latest victim were swollen and badly bruised.

The exact number of BDR personnel held is not known but government sources have put the figure at more than 400. Little independent information is available about the circumstances under which the detainees are held, or their treatment in custody. In the vast majority of cases, family members have not been allowed to meet them. It is not known if they have access to lawyers or can receive medical treatment if needed.

Amnesty International has called on the government of Bangladesh to ensure that detainees are not  subjected to torture, that they have access to lawyers, family visits and courts and that they can challenge the legality of their detention. All detainees should be promptly released unless charged with recognisable criminal offences and remanded by an independent court.

“The government must act immediately to ensure that any detainee in need of medical attention receives the treatment they require,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia director.

“The investigation must be rigorous in establishing the causes of these deaths, and anyone found to have been responsible for their death, including those with command responsibility, should be brought to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards, and without the imposition of the death penalty.

“An impartial investigation is in the government’s interest in order to build trust and confidence within the armed forces and avoid a repeat of this situation.”

Border security guards staged a 33-hour mutiny at the BDR headquarters, Pilkhana, on 25 and 26 February. Bangladeshi media said the causes of the mutiny were BDR grievances over pay and conditions. Government officials alleged it was a conspiracy to unseat the newly-elected government.

Torture of criminal suspects during interrogation is widespread and endemic in Bangladesh. Repeated calls for the protection of people against torture have come from human rights organizations, civil society activists and even the judiciary.