When Habibur Rahman last month joined scores gunned down by Bangladesh’s elite paramilitary anti-crime taskforce, officers told a vivid tale of how he had met his end.
The alleged drug dealer had been killed in a gunfight with officers, they said, after he and his associates were cornered in their hideout and fired on police first.
Such shootouts with the police Rapid Action Battalion are daily occurrences after the government launched a deadly crackdown on the drugs trade which has drawn comparisons with President Roderigo Duterte’s similarly violent purge in the Philippines.
More than 120 people have been killed in just over a fortnight and thousands arrested in what the country says is a campaign to stem the trade of addictive stimulant pills known as yaba flowing to Bangladesh’s addicts.
But as the death toll soars there are growing allegations the campaign is a cover for a wave of extrajudicial killings and political intimidation ahead of a general election later this year.
Mr Rahman’s family told The Telegraph that far from being killed in a shootout in his drug hideout, the 42-year-old activist for the main opposition party was last seen being accompanied from his local mosque in Chittagong by men thought to be plain clothes officers.
One close relative who declined to be named in fear of retaliation said: “[He] was taken after he came out from the mosque. He was killed in custody.
“He was neither a drug seller nor a drug addict. It was because he was involved in politics against the government and protested about land affairs.”
The scale of the bloodshed and reports of summary executions have led the American embassy to voice worries over the killing.
“Of course I express concern about the number of people dying,” Marcia Bernicat, the US ambassador, said this week. “Everyone in a democracy has a right to due process.
“Everyone in a democracy has a right to due process. If there is a violent confrontation people may not survive that, but the goal should be zero tolerance, the goal should be to try and bring everyone to justice,” she said.
Bangladesh has an estimated seven million drug addicts, with up to four-fifths addicted to yaba which streams across the border from labs in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who launched the crackdown in early May, said it would continue until Bangladesh was free of the drug menace and she said no drug “godfathers” would be spared.
“No innocent people are being harassed or targeted, but if any such incidents happen it will be addressed through proper investigation,” she said.
Asaduzzaman Khan, the interior minister, dismissed suggestions of wrongdoing. “These aren’t extra-judicial killings. Our forces are bound to use arms only to save themselves,” Mr Khan said.
Yet in a country where the lucrative drugs trade is entwined with politics and police corruption, the crackdown may be providing the opportunity for officers to intimidate rivals, settle scores and silence those who know too much, sources told The Telegraph.
As well as the dead, more than 9,000 people have been arrested and more than 7,000 criminal prosecutions brought in mobile courts with little due process.
Jyotirmoy Baru, a lawyer at Bangladesh’s supreme court, said the campaign was illegal, with police apparently acting as judge, jury and executioner.
He said the campaign had little to do with stopping drugs because the trade was so vast. Instead it was likely to be intimidation ahead of a general election pencilled in for the end of the year, he said.
He said: “Even as the election approaches, there will be more killing in the name of the war on terror and all the other excuses the government uses to kill people.”
A tide of methamphetamine, much of it from Burma, is this year sweeping through swathes of Asia.
Malaysia last week made its largest ever seizure of crystal methamphetamine, with customs officials saying they had found close to 1.2 tonnes disguised in golden yellow tea packets in a shipment from Burma.
Indonesia and Thailand have also made record seizures since the start of the year.
The market for the drug is expanding at a frightening rate, despite harsh penalties in many Asian nations and an ongoing war against drugs in the Philippines which has seen thousands of suspected users and dealers gunned down in cold blood.
Burma has emerged as the source of most of South East Asia’s meth, which is mostly produced in lawless border regions that are difficult to police.