OC Pradeep: Sacrificial lamb?
The conviction of the infamous Cox’s Bazar cop reflects how the systems of accountability in Bangladesh are politically corrupt.
A court on July 27th 2022 sentenced Pradeep Kumar Das, the former officer-in-charge (OC) of Teknaf police station, to 20 years in prison after he was convicted of amassing over Taka 4 crore ($423,000) illegally.
This sentence of imprisonment follows his earlier conviction in January 2021 (and imposition of the death sentence) for the extrajudicial killing seven months earlier in Cox’s Bazar of the retired army major Sinha Mohammed Rashed Khan.
Some may wish to argue that the conviction of a senior police officer both for an extrajudicial killing and corruption shows that the judicial system in Bangladesh is working well, allowing the powerful to be brought to account for serious crimes.
While this may appear superficially correct, it could not be further from the truth.
In fact, this case illustrates everything that is wrong with the country’s so-called system of justice.
For months, if not years, Pradeep Kumar Das was involved in extrajudicial killings. We know this because he boasted about them in public. Das was able to boast about the killings because he knew the government was not only content with them happening, but that they were in fact state policy, implicitly endorsed by the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. During this period, Das was not investigated, let alone held to account. He was given a free hand, as he knew he would be.
The only reason he is now in prison is because in one of the many extrajudicial killings, he ordered the “wrong” person to be killed— and by “wrong”, we mean someone connected to the army. Had he not killed a retired army officer, he would have continued with his practice of extrajudicial killing with impunity.
Sinha Mohammed Rashed Khan, the man who was killed at a police checkpoint, was a retired major, who once served with the Special Security Force (SSF). Following his death, the army demanded a proper investigation, not a pretend one (or no investigation at all), as normally happens with alleged extrajudicial killings.
In Bangladesh, when the army demands such things, it tends to get its way. The army is just about the only institution in Bangladesh whose views the prime minister must really take heed.
The investigation found that OC Pradeep was behind the killing. He was arrested and prosecuted. Whether or not he received a fair trial is difficult to say. With the army behind the trial, there was only going to be one conclusion.
And following Pradeep’s arrest for this killing, he was no longer a protected man. His corruption was probably already well known, but until he was arrested under pressure from the army, there was no way that anyone would think about investigating him. However, on his arrest, the Anti-Corruption Commission no doubt realised it was to their advantage to go after him — which explains the second conviction.
Yes, it is certainly better that OC Pradeep is now being held accountable than not — but, remember, this is only happening as the government lost control of the situation.
This rarely happens. OC Pradeep was just very very unlucky!