Rights groups have called for an investigation into the killing of a prominent Rohingya leader who was shot to death at the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh.
Mohibullah, who was in his late 40s and had eight children, was killed by unknown gunmen in a camp in Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday night. He led one of the largest community groups to emerge since more than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military crackdown against the Muslim-majority minority in August 2017.
“He left me with so much responsibility,” his wife, Nasima Begum, told Al Jazeera. “I am devastated, how can I manage the family now? It’s a difficult road ahead. I am scared to live here now, we need security.”
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from the site where Mohibullah was shot dead, said there was “an uneasy calm prevailing in the camp and a heavy security presence”.
“Rohingya refugees are worried and anxious to find out who is behind the killing.”
Mohammed Qasim, a Rohingya refugee, could not hold back his tears. “For years now, we have been watching and following Mohibullah, he was a gem to us and done so much for us, but we couldn’t save him,” he told Al Jazeera. “He took our case to the global community to seek justice for us.”
Mohibullah came to prominence when he was chosen to represent his community on a visit to meet then-US President Donald Trump at the White House and attend a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in 2019.
Human Rights Watch called Mohibullah a vital voice for the Rohingya community.
“He always defended the rights of the Rohingya to safe and dignified returns and to have a say in the decisions concerning their lives and future. His killing is a stark demonstration of the risks faced by those in the camps who speak up for freedom and against violence,” Meenakshi Ganguly, the rights group’s South Asia director, said in a statement.
“Mohibullah’s death undermines not only the struggle of Rohingya refugees for greater rights and protection in the refugee camps, but also their efforts to safely return to their homes in Myanmar. Bangladesh authorities should urgently investigate Mohibullah’s killing along with other attacks on Rohingya activists in the camps,” she said.
Amnesty International also condemned the killing and urged Bangladeshi authorities and the United Nations refugee agency to work together to ensure the protection of people in the camps, including refugees, activists and humanitarian workers from both the Rohingya and local community, many of whom have shared concerns about their safety.
“Some groups active in the camp have been organising different types of criminal activities, from operating drugs cartels to holding refugees hostage to killings that have happened as recently as last year. So that clearly indicates who could be behind it,” Saad Hammadi, Amnesty’s South Asia campaigner, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s really important that refugees are provided safety in the camps until they are able to go back. When the government says it will bring the perpetrators to justice, it also must ensure that they are brought to justice in fair trials and that there is transparency to the investigation.”
Mohibullah was known as a moderate who advocated for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar with rights they were denied during decades of persecution.
He was the leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, founded in 2017 to document atrocities against Rohingya in their native Myanmar and give them a voice in international talks about their future.
But his high profile made him a target of hardliners and he received death threats, he told Reuters news agency in 2019. “If I die, I’m fine. I will give my life,” he said at the time.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinked said in a Twitter post on Thursday night that the US was “deeply disturbed” by his murder.
We are deeply disturbed by the murder of Rohingya Muslim leader Mohib Ullah in Bangladesh yesterday. The world will remember Mohib Ullah as a brave and fierce advocate for the human rights of Rohingya Muslims around the world.
— Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) September 30, 2021
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also condemned the “tragic killing” and urged Bangladeshi authorities to take immediate action against the perpetrators.
“UNHCR is in contact with law enforcement agencies and government authorities in charge of maintaining safety and security for the Rohingya refugees living in the camps,” the agency said.
Bangladesh’s government has pledged to take action against Mohibullah’s killers.
“The government will take stern action against those who were involved in the killing. No one will be spared,” Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momen said in his first comment since the killing.
Momen said in a statement that “vested” interests were responsible for the killing as Mohibullah had wanted to return to Myanmar. “The killers of Mohibullah must be brought to justice.”
Police say the murder was well planned and on Friday, detained a suspect in the case.
“All police units are involved in resolving this case and finding the motive behind it,” said Naimul Haq, the commanding officer of the 14 Armed Police Battalion. “Hopefully, we will resolve this case soon.”
Haq told The Associated Press news agency that the man arrested on Friday also was a Rohingya and that he was being questioned.
The killing has ignited grief and anger in the camps where some residents say it is the latest evidence of mounting violence as armed gangs vie for power.
Mohibullah’s brother, Habibullah, who said he witnessed the shooting, told reporters that the assailants covered their faces during the attack but that he recognised some of them.
In a video circulated on social media, he blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group active in the camps.
“They killed him as he is the leader and all Rohingya abide by him,” Habibullah said. Before opening fire, “They said he cannot be a leader of Rohingya and there cannot be any leaders for Rohingya,” he said.
Another witness, Mohammed Sharif, a co-worker in the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights that Mohibullah chaired, said a group of eight to 10 people had entered the office and three of them surrounded Mohibullah.
“One pointed the gun between his eyes, the other on his chest and another one here on the arm and they all fired,” he said. “Then they fired two more shots in the air and hurriedly fled. No one even realised as all this happened so fast.”
Their accounts could not independently be verified. ARSA said in a post on Twitter on Friday that it was “shocked and saddened” by the killing and decried “finger-pointing with baseless and hearsay accusations”.
More than a million Rohingya live in the camps, the vast majority having fled neighbouring Myanmar during the military crackdown that UN investigators have said was carried out with genocidal intent.
Myanmar denies committing genocide, saying it was waging a legitimate campaign against armed fighters who attacked police posts.