Cowardice unlimited!

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by rahnuma ahmed

Limon Hossain with father Tofazzel Akan, mother Henoara Begum, and amuptated leg. Pongu Hospital, Dhaka, 2011.

RAB's top-ranking officials briefing the press about the attack on Limon. 2011, Dhaka.

Shame on the government!
Shame on the director general, RAB!
Shame on the inspector general of police!

Have the last four years of ruling totally erased all conscience, not even a tiny speck left? Don’t any of you have even an iota of decency? Any little shred of gumption? Of courage?

Does the whole state machinery have to be brought to bear on a 17-year old boy and his family — a family of day labourers, whose youngest son Limon had worked in a brick kiln to pay for his college education until RAB shot off his leg — to pursue your own vendetta?

Everyone — every newspaper reader, every TV viewer and every radio listener, not to mention the locals, as a New Age editorial points out (August 17, 2012) — knows what happened. We all know the truth. Except you lot, who pretend not to, or, worse still, take active part in hounding, in persecuting a young boy and his family, so poor, so powerless, that it beggars the imagination.

When unbounded violence enmeshes with vindictiveness so low, so debased, so petty — how else does one speak of how we perceive you, but through parables?

Through unforgettable stories of yester years which live on, precisely because the stupendous idiocy of rulers do not seem to die off.

I turn to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the emperor who fell for what two weavers, out to swindle him, had promised him.

We will make you the finest set of clothes, they said, but it will be of a fabric invisible to all except those too stupid, too incompetent to comprehend your majestic position.

After having made ‘it’, the weavers mimed the action of putting ‘it’ on. The emperor could not see ‘it’, nor could his ministers  but they all pretended — for fear of being outed as being self-important imbeciles undeserving of high positions — as did the nation’s subjects fearfully, when the emperor marched out onto the city, ever so proud of his newly-spun wear. Until a little boy, not yet socialised into the pretenses of power, blurted out, But the emperor has no clothes! He’s naked!

Your clothes too, are off! We have all become the Danish little boy, bewildered at your brazen stupidity. Sickeningly disgusted too, at how more, ever more, lies need to be manufactured at your will, to cover up that one fatal wrong, the one done to Limon, last March 23rd, a mere three days before our independence day.

Undoubtedly there have been many more since then and before, a vast litany of misrule and injustices heaped one on top of the other, a bewildering array which one is hard-pressed to keep track of under this system of electoral autocracy which we are forced to live under, but Limon — and you must understand this, for your own sake, and urgently so — has become, in the public imagination, the icon of justice thwarted, of justice denied because criminals in your government must be protected. Even if it means that innocents be perversely defined as criminals by the state machinery. But no one, absolutely no one, buys into it. They didn’t then, they don’t now, as one horror story after another about the state’s persecution of Limon and his family, keeps unfolding before our eyes.

Our message to you is, wake up, wipe away the slime that covers your eyes, the sludge that prevents you from looking, from seeing, probably not even your own nose.

First, you are guilty of having initiated “preemptive prosecution” against Limon. That was last year, right after the shooting.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it has been coined as far as I know, by lawyers and activists opposed to “preemptive war” — the Bush-Obama doctrine in foreign policy, central to which is the idea of attacking other countries first, in self-defense to preempt possible (i.e., conjectured, dreamt up by Washington’s military-industrial complex) attacks. Central to the doctrine is also the preemptive “first strike use” of nuclear weapons in conventional war theaters in the Middle East and Central Asia, i.e., China, Russia, Iran, North Korea… The use of nukes was passed by Congress in 2004. Utter lunacy, megalomania and a sickening lust for spilling blood and ever-more blood, in greater centres of power too.

Preemptive prosecution, says those who are opposed to the Bush-Obama doctrine, has become the Obama adminstration’s  “de facto legal doctrine”, permitting FBI agents to concoct plans, to use paid informants to trap people, largely Muslims, to implicate them in fabricated cases, either as accessories of terrorist acts, or supporters of terrorist organisations (Sandy English, “FBI entrapment of Muslims in the US,” April 8, 2010). Preemptive prosecution enables the American state to criminalise the innocent, it makes dissent illegal, it enables the government to lock away innocent people and those who consciously oppose, such as Tarek Mehanna, an American citizen, who was recently sentenced to prison for 17½ years (Chris Hedges, “First they came for the Muslims,” April 12, 2012).

Limon was “preemptively prosecuted” when the deputy assistant director of RAB-8, who’d headed the operation, filed two criminal cases on the night of March 23rd, accusing Limon and seven others of possessing illegal arms and ammunitions, obstructing law enforcement agencies in discharging their duties and attempting to kill law enforcers during the ‘shootout.’ According to RAB, Limon’s bullet injury was the result of a shootout; they’d recovered firearms from him; he was an associate of Morshed, a local criminal.

The seeds of criminalising the boy were sown the very day he was shot. To hide their bungling. Their crime.

I begged, I pleaded, you have mistaken me for someone else. I even gave them my mobile phone, call my principal, I said. But they grabbed hold of my collar, they screamed, you are a terrorist. One of them pointed his gun at my left leg and fired.

The police submitted the chargesheet filed under the Arms Act 1878, a day after it had finally recorded the case filed by Limon’s mother, accusing six battalion personnel of shooting Limon. Henoara Begum’s case was recorded only after repeated court orders, only after the national media and human rights groups had intervened, only after public outrage had erupted. But since RAB’s impunity must prevail, the Rajapur police secretly submitted a chargesheet against Limon before the court. This led to a horrendous saga: Limon was discharged from Dhaka’s Pongu hospital, dragged off to Jhalokathi, had to appear before the court, finally being released from Barisal hospital’s jail custody after bail after securing bail from the High Court on May 5, 2011.

Second, you are guilty of whitewashing RAB, for on August 14th, the Rajapur police station submitted its investigation report of the case filed by Henoara Begum. They had not found any evidence that RAB had shot Limon. The allegations against RAB were untrue.

But, as Nur Jahan asks in a letter to a national daily, how can the police find RAB innocent? Who then shot and maimed Limon? (The Daily Star, August 24, 2012).

It is a question that everyone demands an answer to: who shot and maimed Limon?

But the horrific saga of persecution continues, its fires stoked undoubtedly by the police report which found RAB personnel blameless. Dhowa tulshi pata, and not a death squad which has killed more than seven hundred people since its formation in 2004, extra-judicial killings spuriously termed ‘crossfire’, ‘encounter,’ ‘shootout,’ ‘gunfight.’ The prime minister Sheikh Hasina, awarded the battalion’s director general a gallantry award in January 2011; twelve others belonging to RAB were also awarded medals for ‘bravery’; to top it all, the commanding officer of RAB-8, has also received an award.

And now, in the latest round of the government’s persecution of Limon, his family is being investigated for having ‘murdered‘ Forkan, the relative of Ibrahim Howladar, a local criminal who alongwith a few others, assaulted Limon, his mother and brother on Eid day (August 20). According to witnesses and widely circulated press reports, Ibrahim’s brother in law, died elsewhere, that too, of a heart attack.

Fearing further persecution under this fabricated case — one cannot help but wonder, how on earth could the magistrate have accepted the case? how could she have ordered an investigation instead of throwing it out immediately — Limon’s family members have reportedly left their home. The officer-in-charge of the local thana has told the press, once the court order has been received, the police can go ahead and arrest the accused.

But first, the Eid day incident. According to Ibrahim (who’s also a witness to RAB’s criminal case against Limon), ‘They were blocking the road while taking photographs on Idurbari bridge, I requested them to make space for others. Limon became furious, his brother, his mother and his aunts came and attacked me.’ Hardly credible.

Ibrahim is also known to be a RAB source; this however is denied by RAB (Kaler Kantho, August 24, 2012).

Ibrahim threatened me, says Limon. I’ll see to it that you lose the other leg as well. I protested, he hit me. I fell down. My mother and brother rushed to help me, he beat them up as well.

Asshab Ali Jomaddar says, I hadn’t seen Limon for long, I too joined them as they took photographs. “I was so startled when they were attacked.”  Limon and his family were rescued by the local police who took them to the health complex. When a reporter asked Ibrahim, why didn’t you inform the police, why did you leave the area before the police came, he yelled back, [shut up] listen to what I have to say (Samakal, August 23, 2012). Ibrahim tore his own clothes after attacking us, says Henoara, he scratched himself up. He later turned up at the health complex claiming to have been assaulted by Limon (Kaler Kantho, August 23, 2012).

Forkan’s body was retrieved by the police, not from the area by the bridge where he had reportedly been beaten to death by Limon’s family members, but from where he had died, in Ibrahim’s sister’s house. Understandably so, since dead men don’t walk.

Ibrahim’s allegations of murder fly in the face of what witnesses report. Forkan had been seen rushing toward the bridge, he suddenly fell ill in front of the Hafizia madrasa. Two villagers helped him to Ibrahim’s sister’s house nearby.

Allegations of murder fly in the face of what Nilufar Yasmin told the press as well, my brother said, “I had paan. My head started to spin. Give me a glass of water.” He died soon after (Kaler Kantho, August 23, 2012). Preliminary suratehal investigations of the body conducted by Abul Bashar, the upozilla executive officer, speak of a natural death. “I didn’t find any injury marks on his body.”

The murder case prevents Henoara from submitting a petition challenging the police’s whitewashing of RAB. “I was supposed to submit a petition disagreeing with the findings. The false case has been filed so that I cannot submit the petition.” Witnesses to Forkan’s so-called murder are either Ibrahim’s family members or relatives. Not anyone present at the place where the ‘murder’ had allegedly occurred.

With his family members in hiding, Limon now has no one to attend to his everyday needs. After losing my leg, my mother and brother helped me. But I’ve been all alone since the murder case.  I haven’t eaten or bathed for the last two days (Samakal, August 25, 2012).

Forkan’s death was undoubtedly accidental, but attempts to capitalise on it by a RAB informant are not. Given the government’s unbroken track record of offering impunity to RAB — despite public outrage, despite repeated denouncements by human rights organisations and activists — is the ‘murder’ case aimed at swinging public attention away from the core question: who shot and maimed Limon?

Those who are responsible for persecuting Limon and his family, both directly and indirectly, need to fully clothed. For, it is an ugly sight, as cowardice always is.

It can only be achieved by setting up a neutral judicial enquiry with judges who have public credibility. By awarding punishment to those responsible for maiming Limon (instead of gallantry awards up the chain of command).

It can only be achieved by denying RAB immunity for killing, or disappearing, citizens.
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Published in New Age, Monday, August 27, 2012

Related links:

The government’s Eid gift for Limon
Earlier reports and petition

 

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