|Brutality of police action on 5th May at Paltan. Photo credit: Mirza H.K.|
On May 6, 2013 at around 2:30 am, a reported 10 thousand members of police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), along with the armed cadres of the ruling party, attacked thousands of leaders and activists of Hefazate Islam Bangladesh, a non-political religious group, at Shapla Chottor, Motijheel in the Capital. The demonstrators gathered at the Shapla Chottor after their ‘Dhaka blockade’ programme, with the permission of the government, for a public meeting. That night, the law enforcement agencies began by removing media people from the area and shutting down the power supply. They opened fire in the dark with live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullets and threw tear gas shells and sound grenades indiscriminately at the unarmed leaders and activists of Hefazate Islam, many of whom were sleeping after the day-long programme.
In this regard, the government has released a press statement where it has clarified its stance on the events that lead up to the massacre. Details are available all over the net regarding the statement since it has not stated anything out of the expected government stance and are in line with the recent police statements on the massacre.
Four points stand out in the statement:
- A plethora of propaganda mixed with half baked facts as to the extent of the destruction and mayhem caused by the Hefazat which led the government to solicit the drive that led to the massacre. The statement makes no mention whatsoever about the televised presence of armed Awami League cadres attacking the protesters. There is no mention of the well documented police brutality that led to the so many deaths at the Paltan front throughout the day either.
- It says that there were no deaths in the operation at night. I have no need to discuss this as countless media reports and video footage have already refuted such baseless claims by both police and ruling party stalwarts.
- There is NO mention of the despicable act by the government of a media blackout. Two TV news channels were closed down at 4 am. Neither the press statement nor the preceding police statements have mentioned anything in this regard. There is an absence of some other obvious details (which have been documented by the media) such as the use of live ammunition and rubber coated steel bullets and the cutting down of electricity prior to the operation.
- The statement explicitly says that the operation began sometime at 2 am. It also says that the whole operation was only conducted in about 10-15 minutes. This is what I am about to prove a lie.
Let me elaborate on the 4th point of the statement. RTNN says that the operation began at about 2:20 am and ended sometime about 3 am. UNB Connect says the same. The Daily Star reports the security forces converging at about 1:30 am to up to 2:50 am.
A personal eyewitness account at the Dhaka Tribune has an interesting analysis.
02:00 hrs BST: It was 2am, the early hours of May 06; as I got off the rickshaw a chill went down my spine - it was very much the calm before the storm. I spotted about 200 members of Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) next to the rear wall of the secretariat, nearly a hundred policemen in the middle of the intersection and the dark silhouettes of a platoon of Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) members; all in riot gear (Law enforcers were already well positioned!). Law enforcers were reportedly advancing towards Motijheel from all directions – from Dainik Bangla, Arambagh and Purana Paltan.
02:30 hrs BST: The government effort for a negotiation failed; the Hefazat men vowed not to move even an inch; the time was ticking away; it was 2:30am; distant sounds of fired tear gas canisters and sound grenades were heard continually.The law enforcers were inching forward in intervals of five or six minutes.
03:00 hrs BST: Now it was 3am. A walkie-talkie call came to a plainclothes police officer. I overheard: “The troops on the frontline have crossed the Dainik Bangla crossing; Hefazat men are taking to their heels.”
03:30 hrs BST: It was now 3.30am; we heard the members of law enforcement agencies on the front line had reached Shapla Chattar, the heart of Motijheel, where they met fierce resistance from the Islamist group.
03:30 hrs BST: (Around the same time) We saw a wounded journalist of ATN News shuffling down the road with the help of two media colleagues. The police at the Shapla Chattar beat him, they told us.
03:45 hrs BST: It was 3:45am; a small pocket of resistance was put up by Hefazat activists at central Motijheel prompting police to fire sound grenades and rubber bullets to break the up the group.
04:00 hrs BST: It was 4am when the law enforcers finally wrapped up their operation; we were standing at the Purana Paltan crossing where I started, baffled and dazed.
So a personal account by a journalist on ground puts the operation at about more than 02 hours in general. Including the testimonies of various newspapers and media of the operation of security forces continuing well into ‘about 3 am’; this surely refutes the claim of the government of the wrap up of its operation in about 15 minutes. So much for stupid police efficiency myths in Bangladesh.
And Allah knows best.
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