efe-epaBy Azad Majumder Dhaka

With over 350 people shot dead in the last one year, Bangladesh’s state-backed brutal crackdown on drugs appears far from over, sparking human rights concerns and fears that the country may be following the footprints of the savage campaign by the Philippines.

According to data from human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), the Bangladesh anti-drug campaign, which recorded its first death on May 15, 2018, has left at least 357 people dead in clashes with police and another 20 in fights between drug cartels.

In the latest casualty, Bangladesh police on May 13 found Mostafa Hossain, a suspected drug lord, with gunshot wounds near a highway in Mymensingh district, north of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka.

Police also recovered 200 grams (7.05 ounces) of heroin and 100 pills of "yaba" – a local cocktail of methamphetamine mixed with caffeine – from the spot.

Mostafa succumbed to his injuries after he was taken to a hospital, Ahmed Kabir, a police officer, told EFE.

“Mostafa was a drug king in our district. He was wanted in at least eight cases in different police stations,” Kabir said.

The death marks one year into the anti-drug drive that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced on May 3, 2018. Days later, police recorded the first kill on May 15.

According to human rights activists, Bangladesh's crackdown on drugs draws comparisons to the brutal drug war launched by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte that has left thousands of drug suspects shot dead by security forces, with de facto impunity for the executioners.

Authorities claim the drive has been a success despite the fact that the inflow of drugs, especially yaba – which is mostly smuggled across from neighboring Myanmar – has not stopped.

“The success of the campaign is visible, I would say. The drug dealers either went into hiding or stopped the business and many have surrendered,” Jamal Uddin Ahmed, the director-general of the Department of Narcotics Control, told EFE.

“The aggression of drugs is now limited. It’s not that the use of drugs has completely stopped. Since there are drug addicts in society, they will try to collect drugs one or the other way,” he said.

Abu Sufian, another DNC official, told EFE in 2018 that the law-enforcing agencies recovered over 53 million pieces of yaba during different raids, a sharp rise from 40 million in 2017.

During the period, the authorities also recovered 451.8 kilograms (886 pounds) of heroin, a 50 kg-increase compared to the 401.6 kg seized in 2017, he said.

“The use of drugs, especially yaba, has multiplied by over 500 times in the past decade. In 2009, we recovered 132,287 pieces of yaba. Now, after one decade, we recovered over five crores (53 million). The drug is causing damage not only to our society but to our economy,” Sufian noted.

According to the DNC in 2018, the authorities filed 119,878 cases accusing 161,323 individuals of using, selling and smuggling drugs.

Rapid Action Battalion, an elite security force that actively participated in the anti-drug drive, defended the deaths occurred during their raids.

“There cannot be any question regarding the deaths. We arrested over 100,000 people during our drive, but there weren't always casualties,” RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan told EFE.

Khan added there was no plan to stop this drive anytime soon.

“There is no timeline of this operation, it is ongoing, a decision may be made once the problem comes to a tolerable limit,” he said.

Human rights defenders said killing in the drive cannot bring any solution to the menace.

“In the name of the anti-drug drive, the law enforcing agencies continue the killings. The main problem that it creates is the increase of lawlessness,” said Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua.

Barua pointed out that when law-enforcing agencies choose to punish the accused, the judiciary gets undermined.

“Apparently, it may seem that this kind of illegal killings has acceptance in the society. Once justice is delayed, there could be some frustration among ordinary people. There is a perception it gives (the killing) a passive legitimacy. And law-enforcing agencies try to cash it in,” he said.

“The judiciary is weak in many countries. The solution to the problem is strengthening it. Extra-judicial killing is not a solution,” Barua added.

According to Bangladeshi human rights group Odhikar, between 2001 and Apr. 30, 2018, 3,060 people died in extra-judicial killings by the country's security forces.