Dhaka, Bangladesh – Violent mob lynchings over child abduction rumours in Bangladesh has killed at least eight people in the last two weeks, prompting authorities to declare a nationwide alert against vigilante attacks.
The rumours that spread on social media roughly two and a half weeks ago that children were being kidnapped and sacrificed as offerings for the construction of Padma Bridge – a $3bn mega-project – created panic among the people.
Triggered by the panic, angry mobs have attacked at least 30 people across the country, killing eight and injuring 22, police said.
But the lynching of 42-year-old Taslima Begum, a mother of two, on July 20, over false accusations that she was a child kidnapper, sparked nationwide outrage.
She died without knowing what she died for
“She died without knowing what she died for. Her four-year-old daughter still doesn’t understand that her mother is no more,” Begum’s nephew, Syed Nasir Uddin, told Al Jazeera.
Begum had gone to a school in the capital, Dhaka, to inquire about admission for her daughter, but she was mistaken as a child kidnapper and attacked.
While she was being thrashed by the mob, onlookers filmed the incident on their mobile phones. A video of the attack later circulated on social media platforms.
Investigators told Al Jazeera that the school authorities rescued Begum from the agitated crowd, confined her to a room and contacted the police for help. But the mob forced the door open, dragged her out of the room and pummeled her to death before the police arrived.
The police have so far arrested six people in connection with Begum’s murder, including key suspect Inrahim Ridoy, 19, a vegetable vendor from the capital who was seen mercilessly beating Begum in the widely circulated video.
In another tragic incident on the same day in Narayanganj – some 20km from Dhaka – Mohammad Siraj, 28, a deaf man, was also beaten by a mob who suspected him of being a child kidnapper.
Siraj, a divorcee, went to see his daughter. “His wife married another person and took his daughter with her. In that village, Siraj was an unknown person so people thought he was a kidnapper,” said Siraj’s father Abdur Rashid.
“My deaf son couldn’t even say much when they beat him to death,” he told Al Jazeera.
Panic reached its prime when news about a person carrying the severed head of a child in the northern district of Netrokona circulated on social media on July 18. An angry mob killed that person who was later identified as Robin, 22, a drug addict.
Inspector General of Bangladesh Police Javed Patwari told a press briefing on Wednesday that the police had analysed every single case of those eight killings. “Those who were killed by lynching mobs – no one was actually child kidnapper.”
Patwari said more than 100 people have been arrested so far for spreading rumours and being involved in the mob-beating incidents, and scores of social media accounts, including Facebook, YouTube and other online news portals, have been suspended.
Meanwhile, the government has instructed one of its paramilitary forces – Bangladesh Ansar and Village Defense Party (VDP) – to deploy its 6.1 million personnel across the country to prevent rumours.
Director-General of Bangladesh Ansar and VDP Major General Kazi Sharif Kaikobad told Al Jazeera that their forces were asked to encourage people not to believe in rumours over the Padma Bridge construction.
According to Bangladeshi human rights watchdog, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), some 36 lynching incidents took place in the first six months of the year.
Human right activist Nur Khan Liton told Al Jazeera that the mobs’ desire to take the law into their own hands has been increasing due to a lack of respect for the system and distrust for the law enforcement agencies.
“An overall weakened and compromised judiciary also played its part in aggravating the situation here,” he said.
Liton said there is no example of taking any punitive measures against any act of mob lynching.
“Those who take part in vigilante attacks know they won’t need to pay any price,” said Liton.
Additional reporting by Rifat Islam from Dhaka