Bangladeshi woman’s death in Rab’s custody stokes concern

A woman in Bangladesh who stood accused in a case under the Digital Security Act died in the custody of ‘death squad’ Rab after suffering hemorrhages of the brain.

Rab officers told doctors Sultana Jasmine, 38, suffered a fall. But the victim’s son Shahed Hossain Saikat, a student of Chattogram University, said, “She died due to torture in Rab custody. She has a mark of injury on her head.”

Family members said she was in perfect health. Rab picked up Sultana around 10:00am on March 22 when she was on her way to Chandipur Union Land Office where she was an office assistant, law enforcers said.

She died at 10:00am on March 24 at the Rajshahi Medical College Hospital (RMCH).

A day after her detention, she was sued under DSA in Rajshahi “for siphoning off money from job seekers using a Facebook account”.

Sultana’s uncle Nazmul Haque Montu, a former councilor of Naogaon municipality, said, “My niece was intercepted at Muktir Mor by a white microbus carrying Rab officers. We had been looking for her in various Rab camps since but failed to locate her. Around noon, we heard that she is under treatment at Naogaon Sadar Hospital.”

Her family rushed there to find her unresponsive. She had a bruise on her head. “Rab said that she suffered a stroke but she was young and in perfect health. Why would she have a stroke in Rab custody?” Montu added.

Enamul Haque, the local government director of the Rajshahi divisional commissioner’s office, sued Sultana in the case filed under the Digital Security Act with Rajpara Police Station in Rajshahi city, said Officer-in-Charge (investigation) Ruhul Amin.

Interestingly, the case was recorded at 5:10pm on Thursday, more than 31 hours after she had been picked up by Rab and when she was unresponsive in a hospital bed.

Sultana was moved to the RMCH the next day and died there.

RMCH Director Brig Gen FM Shamim Ahmed said that Sultana was brought in by a Rab team in a critical condition around 9:20pm on March 23.

“She was unconscious and was immediately rushed to the neurology ward. From there, she was transferred to the intensive care unit, because her condition continued to deteriorate. We did a CT scan and found multiple intracranial bleeds in her head,” he said.

Assistant Commissioner (Land) of Naogaon Rafiqul Islam said, “Sultana has been working for a year in my office and I have not heard of any accusations of corruption against her.”

Amnesty International expressed concern over the death and said in a statement: “We are deeply concerned to learn that Sultana Jasmine, a government employee who was accused under the draconian Digital Security Act, has died in the custody of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) due to internal bleeding in her head.”

“RAB claims that Sultana ‘suffered a fall’ and a stroke, but Sultana’s family asserted that she was perfectly healthy. Amnesty International calls on the Bangladesh Government to conduct an independent, impartial, and swift investigation into Sultana’s death.”

Amnesty International has in the past documented severe allegations of enforced disappearance followed by extrajudicial executions conducted by RAB, such as in its anti-drug campaign in 2018, which killed at least 466 people.

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