‘Return my father’s body, I want to hold him one last time’

Family members of victims of enforced disappearance plead to the government to return their loved ones.

Adiba, daughter of missing Chhatra Dal leader parvez Hossain, speaks at a human chain programme staged by 'Mayer Daak' in front of the press club in the capital on 20 August, 2022Prothom Alo

Tears started rolling down little Adiba’s cheeks immediately after she held the mike. She could only say one line, “Everything feels terrible without my father, I hate everything.”

Adiba’s father has been missing since she was two. Now, she is 11 years old, her father is still missing. Adiba believes that one day her father will return to her. On Saturday, Adiba came to the national press club with her mother. Members of 42 families were also present there. All of them had loved ones missing for years and years like Adiba.

Adiba Islam’s father Parvez Hossain was the general secretary of Bangshal unit Chhatra Dal. Some unidentified people abducted Parvez from Shahbagh in the capital in December, 2013. There has been no trace of him in the last eight years. Neither the government nor the law enforcement forces have any information on him. Nobody knows if he is still alive.

Like Adiba, Hafsa Islam’s father Sajedul Islam also went missing in 2013. While talking about her father, Hafsa said, “I just want to say one thing. If you have murdered my father then at least let me see his lifeless body for once. I want to see my father’s dead body. I want to hold him for the last time.”

Families of people who have been victim of enforced disappearances gathered in front of the press club to form a human chain. They pleaded to the government, to return their loved ones, if not alive then at least their deceased bodies. ‘Mayer Daak’, a platform of family members of people who are victim of enforced disappearances, organised this human chain.

Earlier, in a press conference in Dhaka on Wednesday, United Nation’s (UN) high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachalet, in a written statement, said, “Various UN human rights mechanisms – including the UN Committee Against Torture, have been raising concerns for several years about allegations of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killing, torture – many of which have been attributed to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) – and the lack of accountability for such violations.

“I raised my deep concern about these serious allegations with government ministers and highlighted the need for an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into these allegations, accompanied by security sector reform.”

They are in Aynaghar

Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Zafrullah Chowdhury was present at the human chain and spoke in support of the affected families. He said, the most infamous prison in the world is the Guantanamo Bay. The entire world condemns it for the brutal punishment it inflicts on inmates. Still, they at least reveal the identities of the people that are imprisoned. But in Bangladesh, hundreds of mothers, daughters, fathers have no idea where their loved ones are. The government is not revealing it. What was their crime? Their only crime was that they spoke up.

Nagorik Oikya president Mahmudur Rahman Manna said that many programmes have been held demanding the return of the missing persons, but no progress has been made. He said, they have to force the government to tell them where the missing people are.

Dhaka University professor from department of law Asif Nazrul said, the government has always denied allegations regarding enforced disappearances. He said, “They (government) say, 600-700 people are on the run. This government has been in power for 13 years, why can’t they find them.”

Asif Nazrul said that the enforced disappearances need to be investigated by a neutral committee, “Our demand is an investigation on the enforced disappearances, not just an eyewash. Human rights activists need to be part of that committee, family members of victims need to be there. Retired judges who are well respected by all sides need to be in the committee.”

Biplobi Workers Party general secretary Saiful Haque said, the government that tortures its citizens can’t have any relation with the people. He said, the state has now taken up the role of a criminal. Citizens are getting abducted, murdered.

The chief coordinator of Gano Samhati Andolan Zonayed Saki said, after someone’s death, the next generation lives with his memories. But with enforced disappearances, people are being robbed of this right. Such atrocities are incomparable. The government is using different verbiage to try and ‘justify’ enforced disappearances.

Gono Odhikar Parishad member secretary Nurul Haque said the law enforcement agencies are involved with every enforced disappearance. He said, some victims of enforced disappearances were later discovered in prisons. The dead bodies of some have been recovered. Many are still missing. He said that those missing are currently being kept in the ‘Aynaghar.’

In a documentary recently shown in an online news portal, it was shown that the victims of enforced disappearances are kept in a place called ‘Aynaghar’.

At least, return my brother’s body

Photojournalist Shahidul Alam and JSD vice-president Tania Rab said officials of different law enforcement agencies are involved in the forced disappearances.

Khurshid Alam, brother of missing BNP leader Chowdhury Alam, drew the prime minister’s attention in the human chain and said, “If my brother has been murdered, at least return his dead body. I have the right to bury him. Return the body today, tomorrow or the day after that, I don’t care. But please return it.”

Former ward councilor Chowdhury Alam went missing nearly 12 years ago.

The convener of Mayer Daak Sanjida Islam said, an investigation committee needs to be formed to investigate the enforced disappearances. She also demanded that the people who are currently in ‘Aynaghar’ be safely returned to their families. She also demanded that those involved with extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances need to be brought to justice.