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Back to yaba biz after weathering the storm

Back to yaba biz after weathering the storm

Country Today Desk

Shah Azam, 28, a yaba godfather of Teknaf, surrendered to police on February 16, 2019, promising to leave the drug business and never engage in the trade again. He was sent to jail at the time and released in November 2020.

But only six months after his release, he broke the "promise". On May 23 last year, he along with three of his associates was arrested by Teknaf police with 10,000 yaba pills.

Interestingly, just a month after being arrested, Azam managed to secure bail and is now moving freely using his father Jamal Hossain's influence.

Jamal is also a yaba trader and a member of Hnila Union Parishad in Teknaf.

Both father and son surrendered to police on the same day along with 100 other top yaba traders and dealers in 2019 in presence of the home minister and the then inspector general of police.

Sources said they have all got out of jail by the end of 2020 and many of them have gone back to narcotics trade.

Hafizur Rahman, officer-in-charge of Teknaf Model Police Station, admitted this and said police were arresting them.

When Jamal was asked about his alleged involvement in yaba trade again, he said, "This is a rumour to tarnish our family's image. My rivals who are not happy to see me elected as a union parishad member are spreading the false information. They even framed my son Azam for yaba dealing."

He further claimed that Azam was now engaged in farming and leading a normal life.

During a visit to Teknaf on September 15, this correspondent pretending to be an NGO worker managed to talk to yaba dealer Nurul Mijhi.

Mijhi was among the surrendered 102 top yaba dealers.

Asked how successful the police's narcotic surrender programme has been, Mijhi opined that it had failed.

"Society does not accept us even after we surrender. Rather, we are stigmatised as 'surrendered yaba dealer' everywhere we go," he said.

"So, why should I stop working in the narcotics trade? I am already labelled as a yaba dealer," he remarked.PROTECTED BY POLITICAL INFLUENCE
In 2019, around 123 top narcotics dealers in Teknaf surrendered to the police in two phases.

These top dealers surrendered after the law enforcers started a countrywide crackdown against narcotics in May 2018, with a special focus on Cox's Bazar as the district is known as the major entry point for yaba pills from Myanmar.

In the last three and a half years, at least 299 people were killed in so-called gunfights with law enforcers during the drive against narcotics in the beach town.

During the surrender, four brothers of former Awami League lawmaker Abdur Rahman Bodi also surrendered to police as top narcotics dealers.

Aminur Rahman was among the four who surrendered. He was released on bail in November 2020. Now he is allegedly giving shelter to many of the drug dealers.

Aminur is currently the president of Customs Clearing and Forwarding Agents association in Teknaf. But in the guise of a businessman, he is backing yaba smugglers.

Enquired about his patronage of yaba dealers, Aminur first asked this correspondent to meet him in person in Teknaf.

But later he said he did not have any idea about drug trafficking now.

Teknaf Union Parishad Chairman Ziaur Rahman who surrendered to the police in 2019, however, said that none of the surrendered dealers had gone back to the previous trade.

"I have not heard anything like this," he said.

Sources, however, said Ziaur himself returned to drug trafficking after coming out of jail.

Ziaur said the allegation was false and that he was helping the law enforcers make a list of drug dealers.

A local source said Ziaur now owned a sawmill and a shopping mall in Teknaf. His drug trade was hidden behind the façade of these businesses.

Nurul Bashar, president of Teknaf Upazila Awami League, told The Daily Star that many of the yaba godfathers became local government representatives.

"These godfathers have just collected a clean chit by surrendering to the police. Now they are leading the law-and-order meetings," he said.

"There is no rule of law. You will not be able to change anything by writing about it," he said.

Law enforcers are now making a new list of yaba smugglers, said the AL leader.

"I told in the law-and-order meeting that making a list of yaba dealers would be a waste of money and time. It would be better and save time if the list is made on those people who are not involved in yaba business," Bashar added with frustration.

According to sources, at least seven narcotics dealers, who had surrendered to police, are now elected councillors, union parishad members, and chairmen.

Mahfuzul Islam, superintendent of police in Cox's Bazar, told The Daily Star that he started surveillance on the surrendered yaba traders just after taking charge on August 26.

"We have so far found that new cases were filed against five surrendered dealers. Around 10 dealers kept their promises and stopped all kinds of narcotic trade," he said.

"We are now checking the rest of the surrendered narcotic dealers' activities," he said, adding, "we have taken an initiative to sit with them soon near their houses as part of a soft approach to know whether they are facing any problems to go back to normal life."

After the soft approach, tougher action will be taken against those who had surrendered, made a promise, and started trafficking again, he said.

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