Decoding Bangladesh’s RAB narrative
GERMAN-BASED NEWS MEDIA DEUTSCHE WELLE aired a documentary about Bangladesh’s elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Deutsche Welle published the investigative documentary in association with Netra News. A summary of the same was also circulated in a press release.
It is said that there is a renewed focus on the serious human rights violations organized by Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion or the RAB. Two whistle-blowers claimed that high-ranking politicians were using this elite force to suppress political opponents. For the first time, two former RAB commanders, whose identities have been withheld for security reasons, have detailed how the special police force carried out killings, torture and disappearances. Deutsche Welle and Netra News met them and verified their real identities. One of the two whistleblowers described RAB as a ‘death squad’.
According to human rights activists, hundreds of people are still missing in Bangladesh. On April 3, Deutsche Welle released a documentary entitled ‘How elite forces RAB terrorize the people of Bangladesh’ in English and Bengali on YouTube, Facebook and other social media. Apart from this, detailed news is also published on Deutsche Welle’s website.
In the next few days, English, German, Arabic and Spanish versions of the documentary will be aired on DW Television, the release said. DW Radio will also air a half-hour program on this investigative documentary.
On the other hand, according to media report, in a written reply to Deutsche Welle, Bangladesh’s home ministry said the claim was “inconsistent” with its own findings and that the allegations “do not appear to be true”. The allegations were rejected as ‘baseless and untrue’. the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) said that the information in the documentary, which was jointly published by Deutsche Welle-Netra News, was false. When asked about the information yesterday, RAB’s Legal and Media Wing director said that the entire video documentary of DW and Netra News is fake. We don’t usually see such news. Most of the information here is old and outdated. Two RAB members said it was also their creation. No one admits wrongdoing like this.
On May 26, 2018, municipal councilor and former president of the local Jubo League was killed in the alleged gunfight in Teknaf, Cox’s Bazar, in the name of anti-drug campaign. Ekramul Haque was killed. In this regard, the RAB official said that the issue of slain councilor Ekramul Haque is very old. Police are investigating the matter. Moreover, no RAB bullet was found in Ekramul’s autopsy report. We had no bullets in his body.
It was basically a case of exchange of fire. It is being investigated by the police. The police have also submitted a related report to the court in this regard. Moreover, the investigation of the Ekram issue is ongoing. The timing of Ekram’s death and the voice recorded on the phone do not match.
The statement of the two RAB members in the report is completely false, said the spokesperson of RAB. He said, if a RAB member does wrong, will they ever admit it like this? RAB did not do any such thing as the fabricated statement they put forward. We work according to the rules.
Since its inception in 2004, the elite force developed itself with an upward trajectory and emerged as one of the vital Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) for Bangladesh. It had a significant contribution to curbing terrorism, fighting drugs, maintaining law and order, and providing security to the citizens. Quickly, RAB and its members were known for their commitment to their service and to the country. In the last 19 years, 27 RAB officials were killed in the line of duty while upholding national security. Countless were also injured during the operations. RAB’s intelligence chief, Lieutenant Colonel Azad Abul Kalam also sacrificed his life during the infamous counter-terrorism operation at Atia Mahal.
It’s been a bit more than one year since the agency is working in the post-US sanction era. When, top US diplomat’s (Donald Lu) recent statement on the issue of the country’s human rights (HR) situation has boosted Bangladesh’s morale to a great extent. He has stated that Bangladesh has improved significantly in its HR issue. In this context, the US diplomat mentioned a recent statement issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) that recognised “tremendous progress” made by RAB in reducing extrajudicial killings.
Recent US annual human rights report also said that there in 2022, extrajudicial killings, disappearances, suppression of expression and media, use of force in gatherings, obstruction of national and international human rights institutions, etc. continued as usual in Bangladesh. However, compared to 2021, extrajudicial killings have decreased in 2022. We can see that Bangladesh is trying to its level best overcome its shortcomings. But DW has not mentioned this in their report. DW report is very biased, based on vested interest of some actors. DW needs to follow full holistic approach in their report.
On April 03 (2023), the name of 41-year-old Tasnim Khalil, the editor of Netra News, a Swedish expatriate, came into wide discussion after the anti-Bangladesh report was broadcast in the DW. Before leaving the country, various inactions against the spirit of the liberation war are also revealed in various sources. In addition, some vested political parties fueled and political ambition to spend huge sums of money was behind him. In fact, the name of a terrible anti-national conspirator is Tasneem Khalil. He has been conspiring against Bangladesh with the connivance of various foreign organizations though his media platform ‘Netra News’ (operated from the Sweden). Its purpose is to spoil the image of the country abroad. Basically, he is working as a paid employee. His main task is to spread propaganda to mislead people and incite anti-government sentiments.
On the other hand, there are many debates regarding DW reporting. The media was accused of biased coverage several times. It is the German government funded media. Thus, it obviously servers the interest of the German government. We know that German ambassador in Bangladesh interferers in the internal affairs sometime. It would not be illogical that German govt, media are trying to serve western interest in Bangladesh. However, Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW) adopted a new code of conduct which threatens staff with dismissal if they question Israel’s right to exist. The intolerance toward any criticism of Israel in DW’s code of conduct has sparked a debate about the contradiction between the broadcaster’s commitment to universal values and what it calls “its special obligation towards Israel”. With near universal consensus amongst the major human rights groups that Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid, it’s unclear how DW or Germany for that matter can maintain its commitment to democracy and human rights wile granting Israel special protection.
In July, DW lost another legal battle in a German Labour court over the dismissal of Palestinian journalist, Maram Salim. A Bonn Labour Court ruled that her termination of employment at Deutsche Welle was invalid, unlawful and that her Facebook posts were not anti-Semitic.
DW had not only conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism as the two cases show but also the fact that in a choice between defending free speech, human rights and democracy on one side and the defence of Israel on the other, the German broadcaster prioritises its support for the Aparthe. Deutsche Welle had accusations of biased coverage, attempting to destabilize state. Egypt accused DW. This is the reporting state of the DW.
However, as a democratic country, Bangladesh is strongly committed to promoting democracy and human rights. As a nation, it has made supreme sacrifice to defend the democratic rights of its people. The US evaluation proves our sincere efforts by taking remedial measures and necessary course correction.
Since 2004, RAB has successfully deployed a network all over the country to gather information regarding public security. Since its inception, it is playing a primary role in curbing terrorism. It has arrested top JMB leaders including, Shaikh Abdur Rahman and Bangla Bhai.
However, in the last year, RAB continued fighting terrorism and drug cartel at its capacity and method. Currently, it is playing a praiseworthy role in Bangladesh’s drive against Kuki-Chin National Front (KNF) – a militant separatist entity active in Chittagong Hill Tract. RAB is also curbing terrorism and arrested a number of the top brass of the newly formed terrorist organisation, Jamatul Ansar Fil Hindal Sharqiya.
There were hardly any allegations of violation against the force in the last year. RAB’s remarkable success was also acknowledged by the US. In March 2022, US Under Secretary, Victoria Nuland acknowledged it. Recently, Assistant Secretary Donald Lu also praised RAB for its ‘tremendous progress’ in respecting human rights.
Bangladesh still has a terrorism problem and drug cartels pose a significant threat to its national security. As a result, the elite force remains one of the important agencies to curb terrorism and drug abuse. RAB remains a primary force to counter the menace of terrorism. And the US is also acknowledging its remarkable success in the post-sanction era. However, at this time DW report is very inpatriate.
(Jubeda Chowdhury is a teacher/columnist based in Dhaka. She is a master’s degree in international relations from University of Dhaka. She writes on international politics, rights of refugees, environmental politics, labour, child, and women’s rights.)
Image: Screen grab of DW documentary.
May 02 2023