Bangladesh arrests cleric over murder of activist

Bangladesh police arrested a powerful cleric who allegedly issued an execution edict against a prominent Rohingya activist shot dead last year in the vast refugee camps near the Myanmar border, officials said Sunday.

The murder last September of Mohib Ullah, the head of an important civil society group, sent shockwaves through the massive settlements that house hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled a violent crackdown by Myanmar’s army in 2017.

His family blamed the murder on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which is the main Rohingya insurgent group in western Myanmar and believed to be involved in drug smuggling and violent crime in the camps.

On Saturday, an elite Bangladeshi police unit arrested Moulvi Zakoria, the alleged chief of the Ulema Council, a council of powerful clerics tied to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

“Moulvi Zokaria issued a fatwa (a religious edict) to assassinate Mohib Ullah. Then Mohib Ullah was killed. Zakoria went into hiding,” said police official Naimul Haque.

Haque said Zakoria had “disagreements with Mohib Ullah.”

“Mohib Ullah was working for the repatriation of Rohingya people to Myanmar. But the work of the so-called group was to destroy the discipline in the camps,” he said.

The overwhelming majority of the Rohingya people are conservative Muslims. Sources said group has a firm grip on the religious affairs of the Rohingya people through the Ulema Council.

In October last year, the group was also accused of killing six people in an Islamic seminary in a refugee camp in Bangladesh’s southeast, which was allegedly controlled by its rival, Islami Mahad.

Working among the chaos and unease in the camps, Ullah and his colleagues quietly documented the crimes that his people suffered at the hands of the Myanmar military while pressing for better conditions.

The former schoolteacher shot to prominence in 2019 when he organized a protest of about 100,000 people in the camps to mark two years since their exodus.

He also met the then-US President Donald Trump in the White House that year and addressed a UN meeting in Geneva.

But his fame appears to have gone down badly with the Salvation Army.

They saw Ullah as threatening their place as the sole voice representing the Rohingya — one who was opposed to their violence, his colleagues and rights activists say.