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Cablegate: Killing by Rab Sparks Protests

VZCZCXRO0179
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #1135/01 1930337
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 120337Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4505
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8004
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1731
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9174
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0028
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0826
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001135

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KGOV KDEM BG
SUBJECT: KILLING BY RAB SPARKS PROTESTS

1. (U) SUMMARY. A May 18 incident in northwestern Bangladesh
has attracted unprecedented domestic criticism of the
paramilitary Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). A man was
allegedly beaten to death by RAB officers, resulting in a
public protest and subsequent clampdown by the government.
END SUMMARY.

DEATH IN A LYCHEE ORCHARD
=========================

2. (U) On the evening of May 18, Mohammad Kamrul Islam Majnu,
a 26-year old farmer, was killed in his home village of Choto
Bangram outside of Rajshahi in northwestern Bangladesh.
Witnesses at the scene allege he was kicked and beaten to
death by plainclothes officers from the para-military Rapid
Action Battalion (RAB) based in Rajshahi.

3. (U) According to a report into the death by the respected
human rights organization Odhikar, Majnu helped kidnap a man
named Bashirul Islam who had been refusing to pay rent at a
local hotel where Islam, his brother Zahirul, and their
families were staying. Majnu and the other alleged
kidnappers were friends of the hotel owner's son. Bashirul
was being held at Majnu's lychee field, and Zahirul sought
assistance from the RAB in freeing him.

3. (U) According to eyewitnesses interviewed by Odhikar,
RAB-5 officers confronted Majnu at his lychee orchard at
around 2300 hours on May 18. They accused him of
participating in the kidnapping. Eyewitnesses say the RAB
officers freed Bashirul. They began beating Majnu with
bamboo poles, and kicking and stomping on him when he fell
down. The RAB officers also struck Majnu's brother and sick
mother and threatened them with "crossfire" when they tried
to stop the beating. Majnu's dead body was loaded into a RAB
vehicle and brought to Rajshahi Medical College Hospital at
around 0100 hours on May 19.

DEATH PROMPTS ANTI-RAB DEMONSTRATIONS
=====================================

4. (U) Doctors at the hospital told reporters Majnu's body
had evidence of severe beating, but they would not conduct an
autopsy because police had already released an inquest report
saying there were no signs of trauma to the body. Meanwhile,
that same day, RAB-5 headquarters issued a report saying
Majnu had been beaten to death by kidnappers. After Majnu's
body was handed over to his family for burial, hundreds of
villagers participated in demonstrations against the RAB and
government that continued for two days.

POLICE AND RAB LAUNCH SEPARATE INVESTIGATIONS
=============================================

5. (U) Given the controversy and conflicting stories
surrounding Majnu's death, Deputy Police Commissioner
Mahbubar Rahman appointed a magistrate to prepare a new
inquest report. That evening the local RAB commanding
officer, Colonel Shamsuzzaman Khan, announced a separate
probe by RAB headquarters into Majnu's death.

"DIRE CONSEQUENCES" IF CASE IS PURSUED
======================================

6. (U) On May 23, the magistrate's inquest announced "the
death occurred due to hemorrhage resulting from injuries that
are homicidal in nature." Deputy Police Commissioner Rahman
told the press that, since the inquest had found the death to
be a murder, "our next investigation is to find the killers."
The RAB report that came out later claimed that Majnu was
beaten to death by "kidnappers."

7. (U) Bashirul (the kidnappee held at the lychee orchard)
and Zahirul Islam, along with a friend, were arrested in
Majnu's death, but Majnu's brother told the press that when
he pressed for RAB officers to be indicted as well, the RAB
threatened him with "dire consequences" if he did not back
off. A local journalist told us after the announcement of the
inquest results, the RAB "cautioned" the media not to publish
stories about the incident. There was no press coverage when
Odhikar released its report on the case in late June.

COMMENT
=======

8. (U) While no one has publicly argued Majnu's innocence,

DHAKA 00001135 002 OF 002


the fact that the RAB beat him to death in front of numerous
eyewitnesses prompted an unprecedented domestic questioning
of the RAB's extrajudicial killings. Regardless of whether
disciplinary actions are taken against the officers involved,
this case seems to have tarnished the RAB's popularity, at
least in the Rajshahi region.
PASI

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