Former army person Hasinur Rahman is one among the remaining four people who were found. Recently in an interview (available on YouTube) he said he was made victim of enforced disappearance twice and kept at a secret detention centre ‘Aynaghar’. Recently a documentary of news portal, Netra News, said the victims of enforced disappearance are kept detained at a secret detention centre ‘Aynaghar’.

Among the three others, two are now behind bars in Bogura while another person is from Jashore. But he doesn’t talk to people much.

Five people separately told Prothom Alo that for months they were kept detained at a place where sunlight could not enter.

According to the home ministry, the 10 people whose whereabouts could be known are Mohammad Rafiqul Islam, Shamim Uddin Pradhan, Mohammad Akhter Hossain, Mohammad Siddiqur Rahman aka Nahid, Mohammad Abdullah Al Faruq aka Rashid, Mohammad Altaf Hawlader, Hasinur Rahman, Mohammad Iqbal Hossain, Zayedur Rahman and Saidur Rahman Kazi. All of them had fallen victims of enforced disappearance from February 2011 to April 2019. Prothom Alo talked to first six people.

Though the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances provided a list 76 victims of enforced disappearances, rights organisations at different times said the actual number is several times higher. According to Asian Human Rights Commission, over 500 people had fallen victim of enforced disappearance between 2009 and 2019. Some of the victims have returned home while some were produced before the court and some were found dead. In a report in 2021, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said 86 of the victims of enforced disappearances are still missing. HRW prepared the report based on interview of 115 people from July, 2020 to March, 2021.

To prevent the incidents of enforced disappearances, the United Nations on 23 December 2010 implemented an instrument ‘International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance’. The instrument says enforced disappearance is if law enforcement denies after picking up a person, if the person is not produced before a court or if the person remains missing. Today (30 August) is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

Speaking about the list of 76 victims of enforced disappearance, home minister Asaduzzaman Khan told Prothom Alo, “We investigate if there is any allegation of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing. But many from the list of 76 people the UN provided are at home with their families while some are absconding as there are cases filed against them and investigation is going about some of them. The law enforcement agencies arrest someone if they commit crimes, not otherwise.”

Govt says people go ‘missing’ for three reasons

The government has told United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that people go ‘missing’ in Bangladesh for three reasons. Firstly, to escape punishment after getting involved in crimes committed against the state; secondly, if someone incurs loss in business; and thirdly, for familial reasons.

Michelle Bachelet held a meeting with home minister Asaduzzaman Khan at the secretariat on 14 August afternoon. At the time, those three reasons were mentioned in a video presentation displayed on behalf of the ministry before her.

However, human rights activists slammed the government claiming that the home minister’s statement on enforced disappearance to be false. They said the government has been making mockery with the families of the victims of enforced disappearance. ‘Mayer Daak’, an organisation of the relatives of enforced disappearance victims said the same as well.

If the state thinks those people were not victims of enforced disappearance and hiding in fear of punishment in lawsuit, the state should disprove the allegations. It should present the victims of enforced disappearance in front of the people, otherwise the doubts of the people that the state is responsible for this will not be dispelled
Sultana Kamal, Adviser to a former caretaker government and human rights activist

Adviser to a former caretaker government and human rights activist Sultana Kamal said, “If the state thinks those people were not victims of enforced disappearance and hiding in fear of punishment in lawsuit, the state should disprove the allegations. It should present the victims of enforced disappearance in front of the people, otherwise the doubts of the people that the state is responsible for this will not be dispelled. Why does the state not find them out? Will we then consider that the state has failed?”

Among the list of 76 victims of enforced disappearance the UN provided the government, at least 31 are involved with the politics of de facto opposition BNP, three are involved with the politics of Awami League and nine are involved with the politics of other parties, two are former army officers and two are students.

What do the people who returned say?

Siddiqur Rahman of Narsingdi was affiliated with Bangladesh Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal. He was picked up on 7 June 2017. He told Prothom Alo that he was handed over to a unit of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in Tangail on 14 February 2018, some eight months after being picked up. There he was shown arrested in an arms case and was sent to Tangail Central Jail. Later he was transferred to Narsingdi Central Jail from there. He was released from jail on bail on 27 May, 2018.

Siddiqur said he was accused in some nine cases before his disappearance. Now the number of cases against him has increased to 16. He doesn’t know where he had been kept for the 252 days after being picked up. The only thing he knows is that sunlight could not reach the room where he was kept in.

Abdullah Al Faruque had almost the same experience. Speaking to Prothom Alo he said, “I am an electrician. I was handed over to RAB over enmity.”

Faruque was kept in a dark room from 18 July, 2017 to 20 February, 2018. He said, “I didn’t see the sun. I am an Awami League activist and my father is a freedom fighter. Despite that, I was picked up.”

Mohammad Akhtar Hossain of Rangpur was the khadem of Pirgacha Rail Station Jame Masjid. Some men in plain clothes detained him on 3 May 2016. Akhtar was accused in a case filed under the Anti-terrorism Act.

Altaf Hawladar of Jashore returned after 28 days of being picked up. He was detained by some armed men on 14 August 2018. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, those men identified them as members of RAB. He was kept in a room in Jashore for 26 days and for two days in a camp in Khulna

He told Prothom Alo that some men, identifying them as DB (detective branch) police, picked him up. He was kept in detention in a room for two months. He assumes that the room was located near the Moghbazar area in the capital.

Altaf Hawladar of Jashore returned after 28 days of being picked up. He was detained by some armed men on 14 August 2018. Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, those men identified them as members of RAB. He was kept in a room in Jashore for 26 days and for two days in a camp in Khulna.

Shamim Uddin Pradhan went missing on 23 February, 2015. He doesn’t want to recall those days of miseries anymore.

Rafiqul Islam of Gaibandha said he wanted to spend some time at the shrines in Sylhet. Therefore he had spent some time at the shrines of Hazrat Shahjalal and Hazrat Shahparan. Asked why he didn’t inform his family, he said, “They would not allow me (to stay stay there).”

Md Iqbal Hossain and Zayedur Rahman have been traced recently. They were picked up from in front of the Baitus Sharif Jame Masjid in Narayanganj. They are currently imprisoned in Bogura Central Jail.

Bogura jail super Munir said they were imprisoned in cases filed under anti-terrorism, arms and explosives act.

Saidur Rahman Qazi of Jashore is one among the 10 who have been found after went missing. He is an activist of Awami League. An official of the police's special branch said, “Saidur is absconding at the moment. He is accused in five cases.”

People, whose wait do not end

Among the 76 missing persons listed by the United Nations (UN), 66 are still missing. Prothom Alo spoke to the family members of 20 of these missing persons on Sunday and Monday.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Monday, Kalpana Chakma’s brother Kalindi Kumar Chakma said, “We are still protesting. Even if she was not picked up by the law enforcement agencies, it is still the government's responsibility to find someone who went missing. And we are waiting.”

The last name in the UN list is Kalpana Chakma, a hill women’s leader. She was kidnapped from her own house in Baghaichhari of Rangamati on 12 June, 1996. She is still missing after 26 years.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Monday, Kalpana Chakma’s brother Kalindi Kumar Chakma said, “We are still protesting. Even if she was not picked up by the law enforcement agencies, it is still the government's responsibility to find someone who went missing. And we are waiting.”

Moazzem Hossain, president of Bangladesh Chhatra League’s Rampura unit in the capital, has been missing since 16 January, 2016. His mother Saleha Begum told Prothom Alo on Monday that, “My son has been picked up due to political reasons. My husband died in grief of losing his son. I, too, will probably die before seeing my son’s face again. But I still feel that my son is alive. I request the government to find my son. After all he was an activist of the ruling party.”

Habibur Rahman of Bagerhat went missing on 6 July 2011. Speaking to Prothom Alo, her wife Mahmuda Begum said, “He was picked up in a microbus in front of my eyes. That was the last time I saw him. Wouldn’t he come to meet us at least once, if he was absconding? My husband had a dispute with neighbours over his fish enclosure. It’s them who handed him over to the police. I am suffering a lot with my five children without him. The government will not bring back my husband, but they could at least help us financially to reduce our pains to some extent.”

Sutrapur unit Chhatra Dal president Selim Reza disappeared on 11 December, 2013. His sister Rahana Banu said, “My brother was a BNP activist. That was his only fault.”

Former president of Laksam upazila BNP and former MP, Saiful Islam and president of Laksam municipal BNP, Humayun Kabir Parvez went missing some nine years ago. Some men, identifying them as members of law enforcement agencies, detained them from the Harischar area on the Cumilla-Noakhali regional highway on 27 November, 2013.

Former president of Laksam upazila BNP and former MP, Saiful Islam and president of Laksam municipal BNP, Humayun Kabir Parvez went missing some nine years ago. Some men, identifying them as members of law enforcement agencies, detained them from the Harischar area on the Cumilla-Noakhali regional highway on 27 November, 2013.

Shahnaz Begum, wife of Humayun Kabir Parvez, said, “My father-in-law has died in grief of losing his son. Now, we are depending on God.”

Everyone knows who is behind my son’s disappearance. Despite that we are not getting justice. The ministers are saying that they are absconding. If so, find them out, bring back my sons. I want to see the face of my son before I die
Hajera Khatun, convenor of Mayer Daak

In 2014, relatives of the persons, who are victims of enforced disappearance, formed an organisation named ‘Mayer Daak’. This organisation has been holding different programmes, including meetings and rallies, to get back their dearer ones. Hajera Khatun is the convenor of Mayer Daak. His son, Sajedul Islam, a BNP leader, disappeared in 2013.

Hajera Khatun is severely ill nowadays. She told Prothom Alo, “Everyone knows who is behind my son’s disappearance. Despite that we are not getting justice. The ministers are saying that they are absconding. If so, find them out, bring back my sons. I want to see the face of my son before I die.”

* The report, originally published in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten by Shameem Reza and Ashish Basu