ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES

The list grows longer

Muktadir Rashid

Incidents of enforced disappearance are increasing in Bangladesh despite provoking outrage time and again from human rights groups and various sections of citizens.
According to reports of different rights groups, whereabouts of over 200 people, mostly political activists, who disappeared in last seven years, still remain unknown.
Families of many of the victims said they were being deprived of justice even after many of the abducted people were later found dead.
The government, which seems unwilling to ratify the United Nations convention relating to enforced disappearance, has often said it did not believe in the practice of ‘enforced disappearance’ and termed the incidents as ‘abduction’ and blamed ‘miscreants’ for the crimes.
Rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra recorded 80 incidents of enforced disappearance in first eight months of this year while the number was 68 in 2013.
It said 56 people had disappeared in 2012, while the number was 59 in 2011, in 2012 it was 47 and 21 between 2007 and 2009.
Of the total 331 victims , the ASK stated that 57 bodies were recovered, 30 others were later released, 11 were handed over to respective police station, four were found detained in police custody, three were sent to jail and Rapid Action Battalion produced seven others before media weeks after their disappearance.
State minister for home affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal claimed that 80 per cent of such allegations were found false. ’I intervened in many cases personally and found quite a number of them linked to lending or love affairs.’
The minister, however, declined comments when asked why the government was not ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by the United Nations, despite claiming that it did not believe in the practice of enforced disappearance.
When New Age cited some incidents for which state forces were
blamed, the junior minister admitted, ‘I would not deny it…One or two foul incidents sometimes take place. Those are being investigated.’
The state minister defended RAB and other law enforcement agencies saying, ‘RAB and other law enforcers sometimes do not disclose the information of whereabouts of detainees in order to complete an ongoing investigation but produce them officially when operation gets completed.’
Families of some victims, however, alleged that none of the state agencies took steps to produce the persons who had disappeared or returned them to their families.
According to ASK statistics, whereabouts of about 219 people, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s organising secretary Ilias Ali and his fellow party man Chowdhury Alam, have remained shrouded in mystery for years.
Families of the victims and witnesses blamed RAB for picking up 83 people while detective branch for 38, ‘law enforcers’ for 55 and plainclothes men for 20 others reported between January 2007 and August 2014, according to the ASK report.
The report also said that at least 70 leaders and activists of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami fell victim to enforced disappearance while 37 others were activists of ruling Awami League.
No case was filed after the ‘incident’ of Ilias Ali along with his driver on the night of April 17 in the capital’s Banani, rather a general diary was recorded and it was still under investigation.
Banani police inspector (investigation) Firoj Hossain Molla said that investigators were regularly submitting progress report to the metropolitan magistrate court in Dhaka.
A detective investigator, who had led an inquiry into the abduction, told New Age on Thursday that ‘trained’ and ‘professional’ persons seemed to have been involved in the incident.
On April 27, an armed group identifying themselves as ‘law enforcers’ had picked up seven people, including Narayanganj panel mayor Nazrul Islam and senior lawyer Chandan Kumar Sarker from Dhaka-Narayanganj link road. Their bodies were found floating in Shitalakhya river after a few days.
Families of the victims have accused RAB of the killings in exchange for money.
Following an order from the High Court, the police arrested the then RAB-11 chief Tareque Sayeed Mohammad, also son-in-law of cabinet member Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, the then special company commander, Arif Hossain, and the then crime prevention company commander, Masud Rana, on May 17 and May 18. So far eight RAB personnel have been arrested in this connection.
The RAB men confessed to committing the crimes before judicial magistrates in Narayanganj under Section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure.
After RAB’s involvement was exposed in April’s seven murders in Narayanganj, the families of BNP leader Saiful Islam Hiru, 60, and his fellow party man Humayun Kabir Parvez, 53, lodged complaints with the judicial magistrate court in Comilla on May 18 against five RAB-11 officials, including Tareque and a crime prevention company commander Major Shahed Raji, for their ‘abduction’ on November 27, 2013, a couple of weeks before the controversial 10th parliamentary election. Hiru was a former lawmaker.
Senior judicial magistrate Sabrina Nargis asked the authorities to submit a police inquiry report before accepting the complaint for proceedings.
‘We have produced our witnesses and completed all formalities but the Laksam police is making unnecessary delay in submitting a report to the court,’ alleged their lawyer, Badiul Alam Sujon, on Thursday.
Laksam police officer-in-charge Monwar Hossain attributed the reason for the delay to absence of witnesses and said they would submit the report by next month.
Witness Jasim Uddin said a RAB team had picked up him along with Hiru and Parvej on that night and handed only him over to police.
Jasim was released from jail 43 days after the incident but the whereabouts of the two BNP leaders were still unknown.
Like them, at least 26 BNP activists and supporters fell victim to enforced disappearance in 2013 before the January 5 election.
On December 4 in 2013, ‘miscreants’ identifying themselves as RAB personnel in two microbuses picked up BNP ward 38 unit secretary general Sajedul Islam Sumon and seven others from  Basundhara residential area and Shaheenbagh.
Sanjida Islam, sister of Saiful Islam, told New Age, ‘Many others arrested during the period were released after six months and they narrated haw they were tortured in custody.’
‘Whereabouts of the seven youths remain a mystery…I intervened in the matter as the victims and their families are known to me. I had asked RAB, DB and others but none said they arrested the youths,’ Asaduzzaman Khan told New Age on Thursday.
‘If RAB or any other agencies have not arrested them, why the law enforcers are not responding to our appeal to do something to find them out,’ she asked.
Another victim is AM Adnan Chowdhury who disappeared after 15 people, identifying themselves as RAB men, picked him up from his house in Shaheenbagh on the same night.
His elderly father Ruhul Amin Chowdhury recalled the incident saying, ‘I guided the 15 RAB personnel, including five in uniform, to the room of my son where he was sleeping…They picked up my son and said he would be released after a brief interrogation. But now no agency is admitting to have arrested my son.’
‘I want my son back,’ he demanded of the government.
ASK director investigation Nur Khan Liton, who recently escaped an abduction attempt while investigating the Narayanganj seven murders, urged the government to ensure accountability of the law enforcement agencies in order to uphold the spirit of the War of Liberation.
He also urged the government to engage Criminal investigation Department or any other independent authorities in the investigation of the reported cases of enforced disappearance.
The CID officials said dozens of cases of disappearance, abduction and also ‘gunfight’ were under investigation.



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