Forced disappearance in Bangladesh

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A mother with a photo of her son who became a victim of forced disappearance in 2013 (image by VOA)

Forced disappearances in Bangladesh denotes to the incidents of persons missing where it is alleged that Government of Bangladesh has direct or indirect sponsorship and involvement with these incidents.[1] According to a Dhaka-based human rights group Odhikar, at least 402 people have become victim of forced disappearance from 2009 to 2017 under the current Awami League administration.[2] These incidents along with extrajudicial killings in Bangladesh has been criticized by The United Nations and human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.[3][4] Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a special paramilitary unit in Bangladesh, is alleged to be behind most of these disappearances even though RAB claimed these allegations to be false.[5] The current Awami League government denies involvement in these forced disappearances even when victims later surface in custody.[2]

According to the report of a domestic human rights organization, 82 people were forcefully disappeared from January to September in 2014.[4] The activists and leaders of opposition parties constitute the majority of the victims. After the disappearances, at least 39 of the victims were found dead while others remained missing.[6][7] Before the controversial national election of 2014, at least 20 opposition men were picked up by the security forces.[8][9] At least 89 people have been victims of enforced disappearances in 2016.[10]

In 2016, the families of the victims of enforced disappearance in Bangladesh founded a platform Mayer Daak to press their demand to know the whereabouts of their loved ones who disappeared under mysterious situation.[11][12]

Background[edit]

It first occurred after the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's regime between 1972 and 1975. Many members of Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, army officers and other opposition party members were picked up by Jatiya Rakkhi Bahini, an elite para-military force formed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.[13] It has continued since then and through the formation of Rapid Action Battalion. Sheikh Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Since then, during her regime, around 402 people have been forcefully disappeared by the state security forces.[2][14][15][16][6][17][18]

After the Awami League party assumed power in the country through election in 2009, law and order situation began to deteriorate with opposition men being attacked by the ruling party men that left several opposition men killed and many others injured.[19][20][21] Armed conflicts and violence erupted in the university campuses throughout the country.[22] Political activities of the opposition parties were often attacked.[23] From 2010, picking up of opposition leaders and activists by the state security forces began to surge in the country.

Pre-election period of 2013[edit]

Throughout most of 2013, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its alliance observed nationwide general strikes and blockades in demand of a non-partisan interim government or a caretaker government to hold the next general election of 2014. The E.U., the U.S. and the Commonwealth announced that they would not send observers since they were concerned about the credibility of the election.[24][25][26] Before the controversial national election of 2014, 20 opposition men were picked up by security forces.[8][9][27][28] As of 2016, they remained missing.[8][9]

Notable cases[edit]

Ilyas Ali[edit]

On 17 April 2012, Ilyas Ali, another prominent leader of the main opposition party BNP, went missing after last being seen in Dhaka at midnight with his driver.[29][30][31] His private car was found abandoned near his Dhaka home.[31] In the following days, five of his party men died and many were injured as they observed strikes and demonstration programs in protest of the disappearance.[30] The incident got much media coverage.

Aminul Islam[edit]

Aminul Islam, a Bangladeshi trade unionist, was a member of Bangladesh Garment & Industrial Workers Federation and an organizer for the Bangladesh Center of Worker Solidarity.[32] On 5 April 2012, Islam's dead body was found near Dhaka after being disappeared earlier.[32][33] The body bore marks of torture.[32][33] His disappearance and murder sparked much international criticism.[33]

The three sons[edit]

In August 2016, the three sons of three opposition leaders were picked up by Bangladesh security forces and were taken to unknown places. Since then, they never returned. The victims were a former brigadier-general of the Bangladesh Army Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, son of Ghulam Azam; Hummam Quader Chowdhury, son of Salauddin Quader Chowdhury; and Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem, son of Mir Quasem Ali.[34] Amaan Azmi was forcedly picked up from his residence in front of his family members. In all three cases, there were multiple witnesses, but the state police denied their involvements in the abductions.[35][34] Later, the United Nations expressed concern over the abductions of three sons, and urged the Sheikh Hasina's government to check the increasing number of cases of forced disappearances in the country.[35]

Sukharanjan Bali[edit]

A prosecution witness who was abducted allegedly by plainclothed police on November 5, 2012 from the gate of Supreme Court after he had decided to testify in favour of an accused war criminal Delawar Hossain Sayedee, who at the time was being tried before the International Crimes Tribunal, Bangladesh. He was later traced to Kolkata's Dumdum prison.[36]

Other cases[edit]

  • Tanvir Hasan Zoha: When the news of Bangladesh Bank heist hit the local media in March 2016, Tanvir Ahmed Zoha, an IT specialist in an interview to Bangla Tribune said that transfer of $81M from Bangladesh Bank to the Philippines occurred because of involvement from someone inside Bangladesh Bank.[37] After his comment on Bangladesh Bank, he went missing the next day on March 16. He and his friend were abducted by unknown people who picked them up in a microbus when Zoha and his friend were returning home by CNG auto rickshaw.[38][39] He was found after six days of disappearance.[40]
  • Mizanur Rahman Sohag: Mizanur Rahman Sohag, a friend of murdered Sohagi Jahan Tonu's brother Anwar Hossain went missing on 28 March 2016. His family claimed that he was picked by unknown person who identified themselves as members of law enforcement agencies.[41] He was found after 16 days of disappearance by his paternal uncle near his home.[42]
  • Kazi Rakibul Hasan Shaon: Kazi Rakibul Hasan Shaon is son of Kazi Abdul Matin, who fought against Pakistan in Bangladesh Liberation war and also was the body guard of Bangladesh's father of the nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He went missing between 2012 and 2015. Exact date is not known. He was the organizing secretary of Awami League's student wing, Chhatra League of Comilla Victoria College unit.[43]
  • Nizam Uddin Munna: He was picked up from his house in 2013. His father alleged that Rapid Action Battelion picked his son.[43]
  • Khalid Hasan Sohel: Khali Hasan Sohel was the president of Bangladesh Nationalist Party's student wing, Chhatra Dal of Dhaka ward 89. He was picked up by law enforcement agencies in 2013.[43]
  • Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum: He was abducted on December 4, 2013. Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum was studying in final year in Government of Titumir College and was preparing to get into National Security Intelligence.[44]
  • Shahnoor Alam: Shahnoor Alam, a trader from Brahmanbaria district was picked up by Rapid Action Battalion 14 on April 29, 2014 from his home in Nabinagar. He was tortured by Rapid Action Battalion and later died of wound in Comilla District Jail on May 6 few days later. Mehedi, younger brother of Alam, on June 1 filed a case with Magistrate Nazmun Nahar's court in Brahmanbaria. The court ordered the police to probe the case, but the magistrate was withdrawn the following day.[45]
  • Tushar Islam Tipu: Abducted in July 2008, Tipu's family sought help from home minisitry of Bangladesh who later issued a letter to authorities in November 2012 to carry out the investigation. But there was no progress on the investigation on his whereabouts.[46]
  • Sajedul Islam Suman and 7 others: He was picked up by Rapid Action Battalion on December 4, 2013 while he was spending time with six of his friends in Bashundhara residential area. A witness said that around 15 RAB member picked him up along with six of his friends around 8:00 PM. Sajedul was the general secretary of Bangladesh Nationalist party of ward-38 of Dhaka city unit. Six of friends were Zahidul Karim Tanvir, Mazharul Islam Russel, Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum, Asaduzzaman Rana, Al Amin, Adnan Chowdhury and Kawsar Ahmed.[47][48]
  • Adnan Chowdhury: Adnan along with his companion, Kawsar were picked up by law enforcement agencies from their houses in Shaheenbagh. Adnan's family described that seven to eight people entered their house and took away their son saying that they need Adnan for interrogation. There were two vehicles outside of their house and one the vehicles had the RAB logo in it as witnessed by his family.[47]
  • Parvez Hossain: Leader of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal, a student wing of Bangladesh Nationalists party was abducted in December 2013 and have been missing since then.[49]
  • Abduction of three siblings: Three brothers Tikkah Sardar, Ershad Miah and Saddam Hossain were abducted from their home in Pabna on May 11, 2016. 10 to 12 armed men claiming themselves as members of Rapid Action Battalion entered their house and picked them up as witnessed by Abdul Karim, father of three siblings who went missing.[50]
  • Habibul Hawlader: A fisherman from Morelganj in Bagerhat was abducted on June 6, 2011.[51]
  • KM Shamim Akhter: Former vice-president of Bangladesh Chhatra Union, a student wing of Bangladesh communist party was abducted on September 29, 2011. He was picked from his home at Purana Paltan area.[51]
  • Mofizul Islam Rashed: Leader of Chhatra Dal, a student wing of Bangladesh Nationalists Party was picked up in front of Diamond Garment on Mirpur Mazar Road, His family says people who picked him up were dressed like members of Detective Branch (DB) police.[52]
  • Nazrul Islam: Teacher of Joypurhat Talimul Islam School and College was abducted on April 11, 2014.[52]
  • Dinar: Dinar was the General Secretary of Chhatra Dal of Sylhet district. He was picked up in March 2012.[52]
  • Anisur Rahman Talukder Khokon: Former organizing secretary of Chhatra Dal, was picked up by law enforcers from his home in Adabar area in March 5, 2015. He was later found under police custody in Faridpur.[53]
  • Kawsar Hossain: Kawsar who worked as a private car driver went missing on December 4, 2013. He was abducted by members of Rapid Action Battalion at midnight from his residence.[54]
  • Khaled Hasan Sohel: Sohel was the president of BNP local unit in Sutrapur, Old Dhaka. He was picked up when he went to Dhaka Central Jail to meet his friends who were imprisoned.[54]
  • Mozahar Hossain Kantu: He was abducted from his home in March 2015. Mozahar was the leader of Awami league in Satkhira and an ex former assistant public prosecutor. He was abducted after he accused a newly elected upazila chairman, Sheikh Waheduzzaman of vote rigging.[55]
  • Selim Reza Mintu: Abducted in 2013, he was a businessman by profession. He was involved with politics of Bangladesh Nationalist Party's student wing. As witnessed by his family, Mintu was abducted around 1:30 am on December, 2013 by group seven to eight people who identified themselves as administrators.[56]
  • Mohammad Imam Hassan: Son of a street hawker. He was kidnapped in 2012 and was rescued the next day by Bangladesh's Rapid Action Battalion but the paramilitary force still has not freed the man.[6]
  • Muhammed Iqbal Mahmud: A medical officer of Health Services in Bangladesh.[57] He was abducted by plain clothed men to a microbus on October 15, 2016 from Science Laboratory intersection in Dhaka. CCTV footage of the incident went on viral where a police van was seen following the microbus.[58]
  • Waliullah and Muqaddas: On February 5, 2012 approximately at 1.00 a.m. Al Mukaddas (22), fourth-year student of the Department of Al Fiqah and Mohammad Waliullah (23), a Masters candidate of Dawah and Islamic Studies Department of Islamic University, Bangladesh were allegedly arrested and disappeared by some persons who identified themselves as RAB-4 and DB Police members from Savar.[59][60][61] Both were members of the Islamic student organization Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir.[62][63][64][65] Amnesty International along with other rights organizations expressed their concern over this issue and called for urgent action.
  • Jakir Hossain: Jakir Hossain was picked up by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB)-2 from his residence at the capital's Adabar thana on April 2, 2013 at midnight. He was a member of Bangladesh Islami Chhatrashibir and acting president of the Adabar thana unit under Dhaka City West branch. He was student of a Dental Institute in Dhaka.[66][67][68]
  • Mohammad Anwarul Islam: On 5 April 2013 at around 2:25am, members of Rapid Action Battalion-5 arrested Mr. Mohammad Anwarul Islam and Mosammat Nurjahan Begum of Angariapara village in Chapainawabganj from house number 175 of Bil-Shimla Moholla under Rajpara Police Station in Rajshahi district. Later, when family members contacted the RAB-5 office, RAB notified that Anwarul had never been arrested by them. An allegation of enforced disappearance was brought against the members of RAB by Anwarul's family members. Upon inquiry, it was found that Anwarul was a last year Master's student of Mathematics department of Rajshahi College. Moreover, he was the Office Secretary of the Islami Chattra Shibir of Rajshahi district.[69]

Law enforcement[edit]

On 27 November 2013, former BNP lawmaker Saiful Islam Hiru and BNP leader Humayun Kabir Parvez were abducted while going to Comilla from Laksham. Convicted murderer of Narayanganj Seven Murder, former RAB-11 official Lt Col (sacked) Tareque Sayeed is the number one accused in the case. RAB-11 is accused of burning 2 cars and killing Iqbal Mahmud Jewel in front of BNP leader Sahab Uddin Sabu in Lakshmipur on 23 December 2013. RAB-11 is also accused of throwing down Jamaat leader Foyez Ahmed from the roof of a 2 storied building. RAB -11 is also accused of abducting businessman Tajul Islam in a Hi-ace microbus on 17 February 2013. 13 days after abduction, Tajul's dead body was found from Meghna river. RAB-11 and Tareque Sayeed is accused in the case of abduction of businessman Ismail Hossain who has been missing since 7 February 2014.[70][71][72]

Related issues[edit]

In April 2014, bodies of seven men were discovered from the Shitalakkhya river. They were strangled, blindfolded and thrown into the river, four days after they were kidnapped few kilometres from Narayanganj district court by RAB men who are accused to do it as contract killing.[18][73][74] In this case, on January 16, 2016 ex-AL men, ex-RAB officials among 26 were handed death penalty[75] as the charges of abduction, murder, concealing the bodies, conspiracy and destroying evidences were proved beyond any doubt.[76] On December 12, 2016 RAB claimed arrest of a man from Dhaka who took Tk 50 lakh, posing as a source of law enforcers, from a family, in assurance of tracing a missing member of the family.[77]

Official response[edit]

On November 23, 2017 in parliament, the prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina claimed that people also disappeared in other countries.[2] Elite paramilitary force, RAB's Director of Media and Legal Wing, Mufti Mahmud Khan told Al Jazeera about the involvement of RAB in these forced disappearance that these were false allegations and that "RAB is there to curb crimes and it is just doing its job."[5] Law Minister Anisul Huq alleged that the disappearance claims were part of a plot by opposition parties to discredit the government.[3] Sajeeb Wazed, son of Sheikh Hasina, wrote in an article that the Bangladesh police had not uncovered any evidence suggestive of the government's involvement behind any reported disappearance.[78]

Criticism[edit]

The incidents of enforced disappearances were condemned by both domestic and international human rights organizations. The main opposition party BNP has held the government responsible for conducting these forced disappearances,[79][80] and demanded an UN-sponsored investigation into such cases.[81] The British parliament frequently expressed concerns over the forced disappearances of political opponents in Bangladesh.[82][83] During her visit to Bangladesh in 2012, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern over the disappearance of Ilyas Ali and Aminul Islam.[30] Despite the demands for the government initiatives to probe such disappearances, investigations into such cases were absent.[9][84][85]

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch published an 82-page report accusing the Bangladesh government of secret detention, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings of political opposition members.[86] It called for a halt in such human rights violations. The report also contained gruesome accounts of forcefully picking up and subsequent disappearances of political opposition members at the hands of law enforcement authorities.

During May 2018, the United Nations' High Commissioner of Human Rights and 56 other organizations expressed their concerns about Bangladesh's enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings in Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations.[87]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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