Fighting the Yaba Pill The Death Toll Mounts in Bangladesh’s Drug War

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BANGLADESH. Cox Bazar. December 2019. Patrouille de nuit de la police de Teknaf, contrôle aléatoire. Centre ville de Teknaf. BANGLADESH. Cox Bazar. December 2019. Night patrol by the police of Teknaf. Random control.

Bangladesh has a methamphetamine problem, and the government is turning to drastic measures in the search for a solution. Human rights organizations say that the authorities are resorting to extrajudicial killings.

By Tim van Olphen

For our Global Societies project, reporters around the world will be writing about societal problems, sustainability and development in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. The series will include features, analyses, photo essays, videos and podcasts looking behind the curtain of globalization. The project is generously funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The red or pink pills usually aren’t much larger than the fingernail on your pinky. They also don’t cost too much – between two and four euros each. Nevertheless, they are among the most significant problems currently facing Bangladesh. Called Yaba, the drug is currently overwhelming the South Asian country.

Estimates hold that around 7 million of the country’s 164 million residents are addicted to drugs. Fully 5 million of them are thought to be hooked on Yaba. A mixture of methamphetamines and caffeine, it makes users feel more confident and energetic. Users tend to forego sleep and eat very little, with many taking the drug to help them work longer hours and earn more money for their families. But others just take it to get high.

The pills are produced in industrial quantities next door in Myanmar before being smuggled into Bangladesh across the southern border. In 2018 alone, security personnel confiscated fully 53 million of the pills.

Officially, alcohol and drugs are prohibited in the Muslim country. Nevertheless, Bangladesh is no small part of the methamphetamine problem in South and East Asia, where confiscations of the synthetic drug rose by a factor of eight in the 10 years between 2007 and 2017 – to fully 82 tons – according to the UN’s most recent World Drug Report released in 2019. The total represents almost 45 percent of all such seizures around the world.

In an attempt to get the drug problem under control, the government in Dhaka has opted for severity over the last two years in its fight against both drug dealers and users. Violence has been a frequent outcome.

The anti-drug campaign carried out by the Bangladeshi government has been reminiscent of the brutal “War on Drugs” launched by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after he rose to power in June 2016. Suspected drug criminals are essentially executed by Duterte’s troops and the offensive has already resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.

Amnesty International alleges that the government in Dhaka has been similarly brutal in its treatment of alleged dealers and users. The human rights organization has accused Bangladesh of launching a “wave of extrajudicial killings,” claiming that 466 people were killed in 2018 alone as part of the anti-drug campaign. That number, the Amnesty report claims, is three times higher than in 2017 and “the highest in a single year in decades.”

In a 2019 report, the organization wrote that the victims were initially apprehended by police or simply disappeared. The authorities, according to the report, consistently tell family members that they have no idea where the suspected drug dealers might be. Later, when their bodies are found, the authorities frequently claim that the victim died in a “gunfight.”

French photographer Olivier Jobard and investigative journalist Charles Emptaz have looked into the cases of two men who died in one of these alleged “gunfights” in southern Bangladesh. In the course of their reporting, they uncovered several inconsistencies and give credence to suspicions that the two men were executed by Bangladeshi security personnel.

The following photo gallery is a collection of images taken by Jobard showing the means used by the Bangladeshi authorities in their anti-drug campaign:

Der Spiegel

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