Bangladesh: Cruel killing of Romel Chakma: Media coverage, Statement of Army & Police, and Propaganda

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    Though the death of Romel Chakma on 19 April 2017 went viral with the social media and caused heightened agony among the masses, no national daily was noticed to publish news on Romel’s death till 21 April. It was not only the case with the national dailies, no news over death of Romel Chakma was seen uploaded on the national & local online portals.

    Romel Chakma, an HSC candidate who was held by the army and meted out brutal torture died in Chittagong Medical College Hospital on 19 April 2017 while undergoing treatment. A group of army commanded by G-2 Major Syed Tanvir Saleh arrested him in Naniarchar Bazaar of Rangamati hill district on 5 April 2017. By then Romel was on his way back home after purchasing daily necessities from the market, as there was no examination on that day. It is reported that Romel was then taken to the Naniarchar Army Zone Headquarters and severely beaten up there. As a result of inhuman torture, Romel’s condition became critical. When the army personnel wanted to hand over already feinted Romel to Naniarchar Police Station, the police denied to accept him seeing his serious condition. Then the army got Romel admitted in Naniarchar Upazila Hospital. But as Romel continued to develop deterioration, he was then referred to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where he died under joint custody of police and army.

    With the spread of news of Romel Chakma’s death, the Jumma students and mass people burst into protest in masses. Storm of anguish and protestation ran through the social media and face book. The army of Burighat camp further added fuel to the fire of mass anguish by snatching off Romel Chakma’s dead body from his aggrieved parents and relatives while they were carrying it to home. The mass sentiment got even more tempered when the army, police and local administration took the dead body to jungle some two kilometers off the Hatimara village of the deceased and got the dead body reduced to ashes by continued pouring in petrol and kerosene without paying respect to the traditional funeral rites and rituals and allowing the parents and close relatives of the deceased to be there. The Jumma students and people expressed their strong condemnation over not letting the death body cremated as per religious and traditional rites & rituals by the aggrieved parents and relatives of the deceased.

    It is of great concern that though the death of Romel Chakma went viral with the social media and caused heightened agony among the masses, no national daily was noticed to publish news on Romel’s death. It was not only the case with the national dailies, no news over death of Romel Chakma was seen uploaded on the national online portals. It is suspected that the electronic media remained abstaining from publishing such a significant news of killing probably, owing to strictness on already imposed restriction or lacking of boldness in media sector or due to ‘self-imposed restriction’ on part of the media, itself. However, a few national online portal were seen publishing out the death news of Romel Chakma on 21 April 2017 but all those were either distorted or untrue. But anyway, a few national dailies were seen publishing the news over Romel’s death very carefully.

    On 21 April 2017, ‘The New Age’ in its news head titling ‘Blockade on Khagrachari-Rangamti road protesting death of student in custody’ says: “Hill people in Rangamati put blockade on Rangamati-Khagrachari highway on Friday protesting against the death of a HSC examinee in custody after ‘torture’ and ‘snatching away his mortal remains’ by administration.”

    The New Age also cited that “One of Romel’s uncle, who requested not to publish his name, told the New Age that when Romel’s mortal remains reached Burighat of Naniyarchar, military personnel took away the body on Thursday night and burnt it in their custody without following religious rites and tradition on Friday. ‘They also took the karbari our village and one of our cousins along with Romel’s body. They allowed none other to be there. We heard that they had picked up a Bhante (monk) from somewhere but there was no religious or traditional ritual when they burnt the body,’ said the uncle over telephone. ‘I have never heard of such inhumane act. They even did not allow any of the family members to see Romel at hospital,’ he said. He also said Romel’s father became ill following death of his son.Meanwhile, Abdul Latif, the Officer-in-Charge of Naniyarchar police station, said Romel was cremated around noon time in presence of Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Kaukhali, Azgar Ali, who is also in-charge of Naniyarchar Upazila, one magistrate and seven to eight policemen at Purba Hatimara under Burighat union.”

    On 23 April 2017, The Daily Star in its news headline titled: ‘Confusion, anger over death in hills’ said: “It remains unclear how the visually impaired youth died after army picked him up on the morning of April 5 from Naniarchar Bazar. The circumstances of his funeral also remain shrouded in mystery, as different organisations, including PCP and several leftist student bodies continue to demonstrate in the capital and Rangamati. Romel was picked up by the army in connection with two cases filed over torching a truck and looting two buses, Lt Col Mohammad Rashidul Hasan, director of ISPR, told The Daily Star over the phone yesterday. They handed Romel over to the Naniarchar police the same day, said the Inter Service Public Relations Directorate (ISPR) official, adding that the young man died on April 19 at Chittagong Medical College Hospital where he was being treated under police custody. He added the allegation of torture upon him by the army was false.

    The Daily Star added: “But Officer-in-Charge of Naniarchar Police Station Abdul Latif told The Daily Star that no one handed Romel over to them. When this newspaper informed the ISPR director what the police officer said, his response was, “Oh, is that so?” Abdul Latif also said, “We have information that Romel was admitted to Naniarchar Health Complex after he was injured in a road accident. Documents at the facility desk also show that he was referred to Chittagong Medical College Hospital. The Daily Star also cited that “About Romel’s funeral, his family members, wishing to be in anonymity, said when they went to take his body from the army on Friday, they were told that the body was already cremated.”

    The Daily Star also mentioned, “When asked, the ISPR director in a text message said the cremation took place between 1:30p.m. and 4:00p.m. in presence of Naniarchar OC and Upazila Nirbahi Officer of Kawkhali. The OC, however, said he was not present at the funeral cremation site. He added that Romel was from Purba Hatimara village. When he heard that the body was brought there, he worked with his force to ensure security in the area. About the presence of Romel’s family at the funeral, the ISPR official said, “I’d have to check. My common sense tells me that it’s only natural that the family members were there.” Romel’s father Kanti Chakma, in a letter addressed to the National Human Rights Commission dated April 6, 2017, the day after his son was picked up, expressed concern to the affect that his son was critically injured during beatings by the army men inside their camp. He also said his son fell unconscious at the beating by the army men, who later tried to hand him over to the police. But police refused to accept his unconscious body.”

    On 22 April, 2017, reacting over the news titled: “Whose torture caused Romel to die?” the ISPR Director Lt. Colonel Rashedul Hasan told the Deutsche Welle: “The army personnel held him on 5 April 2017 on ground of filed up case on burning the truck and looting bus and he was handed over to the police on that day. Thereafter, he was admitted to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where he received medical treatment for 14 days under police custody. He died on 19 April 2017 while undergoing treatment. The allegation of his death due to army torture is not correct and true.”

    In reply to Deutsche Welle, Abdul Latif, the Officer-In-Charge of Naniarchar Police Station said: “We did not arrest Romel and even we did not get Romel admitted in the Hospital. But as per the information sent from the Panchlais Police Station, we received the death body after post mortem. Chittagong Medical College Hospital falls under jurisdiction of Panchlais Police Station of CMP. But since Romel’s house is in Naniarchar, we had to bring his body o Naniarchar.” In reply to another question, he said: “Why shall arrest Romel? With us there is no case against Romel. It is only the army officers to know about who arrested Romel. It was the army who got Romel admitted to hospital. Firstly, Romel was admitted in Upazila Hospita and then he was sent to Chittagong Medical College Hospital.”

    On 23 April 2017, the Daily Manob Kantho, in its news head titled: ‘Rangamati gets tempered all of a sudden: Day to Dusk Blockade on land and navigation transports’ writes: “The police are to say all has been quite right. But the situation has been made tempered. The police cannot be held responsible for all that. Police is performing its duties. It is an environment that has been created. Now police is to work amidst various obstructions.” Rangamati Police Superintendent, Tarikul Islam said to the Manob Kantho: “It is good that the accused has been arrested. But there is the law for that. Trial will find its course accordingly. But he was brought to the police after torture. Seeing his physical condition, the police did not accept him. Afterward he died. Even there has been push and pulling centering the death body. Now, the responsibility is being put upon the police. A man died and hence, it is usual that there will be blockade. Here, the situation has been made tempered by way of beating. Consequently, transport strike has got added. Now it is the police to face the situation ignoring the rains and hot sun. The police had no hands behind what had happened. If at all we are made responsible, then let there be an investigation and measure accordingly. The police can never indulge any injustice.”

    In the Daily Manob Kantho it was further said: “Moniruzzaman Mahsin said, ‘The area that was in tranquility, has been turned into unstable. This, we never wish to see. Unnatural death creates troubles in the hills. Any unnatural death is unwelcoming to us. We want exactly the peace that would prevail during the periods of our fore-fathers. The senior lawyer Jewel Dewan said, we do not long for this kind of environment. The administration has to act upon some measures as to mitigate the agony of the people. Since the death occurred under custody, it is necessary to go for a proper investigation.”

    On 20 April 2017, it was mentioned in the online news portal named Parbattya News under title: ‘Death of Romel Chakma held on allegation of setting fire in the truck’ saying: “Romel Chakma, the master mind behind the incident of setting fire in the truck for not realization of extortion in Naniarchar of Rangamati hill district, died in Chittagong Medical College Hospital at noon on Wednesday. He had been under medical treatment there since 6 April 2017.” The news text contained 444 words in which it was only 38 words written about Romel’s death. The remaining more than 400 words of the news were on the incident of setting fire in the truck. This makes everyone clear that up to what extent the online ‘Parbattya News’ is communal and bearer of yellow journalism.

    In another online news portal of CHT named ‘Pahar24.Com, under its simplified headline titled: ‘Completion of Romel Chakma’s funeral cremation’ it was said: “After arrest of the security forces and following hand over him to the police, as Romel began to feel chest pain, he was admitted to hospital by police on 6 April 2017 for better treatment.” Referring to the statement made by one Shafikul Islam, UP member of Ward No.6 of Burighat Union Parishad, the Pahar24.Comm wrote: ‘It was due to rain the dead body could not be carried to the village that night. The next day, i.e. Friday, the death body was brought to Hatimara, the village of the deceased and was cremated by some of his relatives.” The news so rendered is utterly a lie and distorted.

    On the other hand, in place of Romel’s death, the theme of the news was emphasized on the incident in the case of which Romel Chakma was entangled. It says: “…In the late afternoon of Friday, some 30 to 40 youths armed with sticks barricaded the Rangamati-Khagrachari Road and stopped the bus. They vandalized the vehicle No. Rangamati-J3071 on its way back to Rangamati from Khagrachari and injured the vehicle owner Shahdat Hossain and the helper Arman seriously. They youths also attacked the passengers.” The Pahar24.com had a clever attempt to infuse the communal sentiment by way of mentioning the names of vehicle owner and the helper so as to present it to have been a communal attack upon the Bengali people.

    On 20 April 2017, the Bangla Tribune did also publish a distorted and false news under the headline: ‘Romel’s death is unnatural’ wherein it says: “Romel’s funeral performance ended at noon time on Friday at East Hatimara village of No.6 Ward under Burighat Union in presence of his relatives. The UP member of Ward No.6 Shafikul Islam said that it was due to heavy rain the dead body could not be brought to his village of Hatimara. Hence, the body was taken to East Hatimara village on Friday and the funeral performance was completed along with his relatives.”

    It is of worth-mentioning that in one hand, propaganda CHT has been escalated up through online portals and social media while the influential quarters of the ruling class directly or indirectly impose restriction upon electronic media on publication of news relating to suppression and oppression upon the Jumma people, mass rallies, demonstration, protestation, various programs, etc. organized by the Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs) engaged in the movement for the rights indigenous Jumma peoples in the CHT Accord, on the other. Consequently, in most cases, the news on suppression and oppression and various programs launched by the IPOs do not get coverage in the national and local dailies, let alone the television channels.

    On the other side, in some cases, permission is not given to the IPOs to hold mass meeting, protestation, demonstration, rallies, etc. The Deputy Commissioner of Bandarban hill district did not permit the mass gathering already thrown on the occasion of celebrating 19th CHT Accord Anniversary on 2 December 2016. On 26-27 November 2016, the army of Sindukchari sub-zone under Khagrachhari hill district tore off the posters pasted on the occasion of 19th CHT Accord Anniversary and held the workers engaged in posturing task in the camp. The Khagrachari district Administration did not permit to stage human chain organized in the three hill districts on demands for proper, speedy, and full implementation of the CHT Accord and separate Land Commission for the indigenous peoples of plain lands on 18 January 2016. The police mounted upon the people who came down to street in Khagrachari Sadar. The army prevented the people from staging human chain in Maischari and Mahalchari Sadar. The army of Maischari camp scold the people came to join human chain at Maischari Megistrate Para and Nunchari Para in un-pronounceable bad languages and lathi-charged. Thus how the government interferes in liberty for expression of opinion and gathering.

    Source: CHT News Services