Bangladesh plans death penalty for drug dealers

Rights activists and church officials say capital punishment will do nothing to stop the country's growing narcotics problem
Bangladesh plans death penalty for drug dealers

Police detain suspected drug dealers during a raid in Dhaka on June 20. Bangladesh's crackdown has seen about 160 alleged drug dealers killed since May 15. (ucanews.com photo)

Bangladeshi authorities are planning to introduce the death penalty for drug dealers and their patrons, sparking opposition from rights activists and church officials.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League said in parliament on June 20 that her government is devising a tougher law to curb the narcotics menace.

The Narcotics Bill 2018 aims to take strong action against not just against drug dealers but also patrons of the drug trade, drug syndicates and godfathers, she was quoted as saying by United News of Bangladesh on June 21.

In the absence of sufficient scope to take punitive action against those from whom drugs are not recovered, "the masterminds of the drug trade escape easily," the premier said in defense of the death penalty.

The announcement comes amid a Philippines-style drug crackdown in Bangladesh.

From May 15 to June 21, about 160 people, mostly alleged drug dealers, were killed in police "crossfire" — a common euphemism for arbitrary police shootouts in Bangladesh, according to media reports. Police also arrested 20,767 persons and filed 15,333 cases in connection to drug dealing.

According to police, 106,436 cases were filed against 132,883 drug dealers in 2017.

Father Albert Thomas Rozario, convener of the Justice and Peace Commission in Dhaka Archdiocese, welcomed a stricter law but opposed the death penalty.

"Life imprisonment would be acceptable. We have enough laws, which are not properly enforced, so the masterminds always exploit legal loopholes to evade legal action. Drug killings and the death penalty can do nothing in the fight against the drug menace if we cannot ensure strict enforcement of the law," Father Rozario, a Supreme Court lawyer, told ucanews.com.

The priest alleged "dirty politics" are involved in drug killings and the death penalty as no godfather has yet been brought to book.

He said the crackdown gives the impression it is being done to gain popularity ahead of the national election and to muzzle dissent and opposition.

Nasiruddin Elan, a rights activist and former secretary of Odhikar, a Dhaka-based rights group, expressed similar sentiments.

"There is no question that the drug menace is a big problem and the government has the right to take measures to tackle it. However, we cannot accept rights violations, arbitrary killings and also the death penalty in the name of a crackdown," he told ucanews.com.

"We have not seen any big fish caught in the anti-drug net, only small fish. There are allegations that law enforcers are also involved in the drug trade. Drug killings and strict laws are just eyewash, and they won’t bring respite in the long run."

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