'Missing' persons say nothing upon return

Adiba Islam Hridi breaks into tears while asking for her father Parvez Hossain, to be returned. Mayer Daak, a platform of the families of the people who fell victim to enforced disappearance, organised a programme where relatives of disappeared people joined at Shahbagh intersection, Dhaka on 29 August 2020
Prothom Alo File Photo

Some had been on their way to office, or on their way home from office. Some were at home with their families. Then they were picked up and whisked away by strangers introducing themselves as members of the law enforcement, sometimes in plainclothes, sometimes in uniform. Later they either turned up as corpses or returned home. Some remain missing.

The names of these 'missing' persons have found place on the forced disappearance lists of Amnesty International, the Human Rights Commission and other such local and international human rights organisations. The lists include the names of former members of parliament, political leaders and activists and, more recently, university teachers, publishers, businessmen, religious preachers and bank officials.

Islamic preacher Abu Taw Haa Mohammad Adnan, along with three of his companions, went missing on 10 June. He was found on 18 June at home. Police claim Abu Taw Haa had been in hiding at his second wife's house. And he supposedly had convinced the other three to also not let anyone know about their whereabouts while in hiding. Those three were in their respective homes.

Returning after their disappearance, none of these four have said anything at all about what had actually happened.

This was same in the case of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal. After going missing for 53 days, he was found on 3 May in Benapole, Jashore, near the Indian border. A year after he was found, journalist Shafiqul told a webinar on 3 May, "I still do not have the courage to say whether I was abducted or whether I was lost." He said, "I was attacked because of my professional work, but I never thought that I would be a victim of forced disappearance." "It is not possible to explain what a cruel time my family and I went through in that time." He said he had not imagined that he would ever be among his acquaintances again, be able to talk to them once more.

Chattogram journalist Golam Sarwar, a victim of abduction or forced disappearance or who had gone missing, said this was in November last year. Also speaking at the webinar, he said how he had been in constant fear and how he finally was forced to leave his home in Chattogram and go to the village.

Moderator of the webinar, lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua, said, "At the moment, staying alive is more important for Sarwar than journalism."

According to the human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra, over the past 13 years (till August 2020), of the 604 missing persons, the bodies of 78 had been recovered. And 89 had been shown as arrested, while 57 managed to return somehow or the other. The families of the others have no idea where they are, how they are. The law enforcement also are unable to give any information.

Like the recent incident of Abu Taw Haa, over the past 13 years many have returned to their families after going 'mysteriously missing' or being 'abducted'. In many cases, there is a common pattern to these incidents. A large number of the disappeared persons have been found in an 'abnormal' state in the street, but can remember nothing upon return. Others simply remain silent after they return. Many return home, but also have nothing to say.

Former diplomat Maroof Zaman went missing over three years ago. He too said nothing upon return. He revealed nothing of who had picked him up and taken him away, or why they had done so.

The relatives of these victims of mysterious disappearances or abductions have sometimes told the media that they were picked up by persons identifying themselves as members of the law enforcement. Upon return, most of the victims say they were blindfolded and taken by microbus to an unknown location. They are unwilling to say anything beyond this.

Pattern of missing and returning

On 16 April 2014, businessman Abu Bakr Siddique, the husband Rizwana Hasan, of the chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA), was abducted from the Dhaka-Narayanganj link road. After 34 hours he was dropped off, by unidentified persons, in a blindfolded state in Mirpur. His abductors even tucked 300 taka into his pocket. He untied his blindfold and took a rickshaw to Mirpur No 10 and then took a CNG-run autorickshaw to Dhanmondi. He was stopped at the police checkpost at the corner of staff quarters next to the Kalabagan playing grounds. When he identified himself, he was taken to the police station.

Abu Bakr Siddique's wife Rizwana Hasan filed a case at the Fatulla police station regarding his abduction. No progress has been made in the case.

Convenor of Nagorik Oikya, Mahmudur Rahman Manna, was picked up by plainclothesmen at the early hour of 3:30am on 23 February 2015 from a relative's house in Banani, alleged his wife Meher Nigar. The police at the time denied the allegation. Then he was shown to have been arrested from in front of Star Kabab in Dhanmondi, 21 hours after he went missing.

BNP leader Salauddin Ahmed was found in Shillong of Meghalaya, India, 62 days after he went missing on 10 March 2015 from a house in Uttara. He phoned his wife Hasina Khan on 12 May from the Meghalaya Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences Hospital. Quoting Indian police, it was said that the police had nabbed him while he was wandering around the Gold Green area in Meghalaya. He was supposedly seemed to be abnormal at the time.

Salahuddin told journalists that he had not gone to India on his own accord. He was taken there by those who had abducted him. He was unwilling to saying anything further.

Tanveer Ahmed had spoken in interviews with the media as an IT expert after the Bangladesh Bank reserve fund heist. In the early hours of 16 March 2016 he went missing. Five days later, the police found him walking down Airport Road in an agitated state and took him home.

Humman Quader Chowdhury, son of Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, went missing from the court area in Old Dhaka on 4 August 2017. He returned home after being detained for seven months in an unknown place.

Cumilla Medical College Hospital physician Iqbal Mahmud on 15 October 2016 went missing on 15 October 2016 from Science Laboratory in the capital city. Pabna Medical College student Tanvir Ahmed went missing on 10 November while on his way from Rangpur to Pabna. Tanvir's friend and student of the same medical college on 1 December, Zakir Hossain, went missing from the Pabna College campus and Mehdi Hasan, a young job seeker from Barishal, from Banani. On 6 December badminton player Rakibul Islam Rabi went missing from Lakshmipur. They all returned later.

Physician Iqbal Mahmud’s father Nurul Alam, Pabna Medical College Hospital’s two students’ fathers Surujjaman and Nurul Alam Sarker said they are happy to get their sons back. They do not want to file any complaint.

University teacher Mobasshar Hasan, book publisher Tanvir Yasin Karim, journalist Utpal Das, Kalyan Party’s secretary-general Aminur Rahman, IFIC Bank’s official Shamim Ahmed and businessman Aniruddha Roy had disappeared too. Mobasshar, upon his return, did not speak anything about the days of his disappearance. This university teacher is now teaching at a foreign university.

According to Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and local human rights organisation Odhikar, a total of 395 people disappeared from 2009 to November 2017.

Ain O Shalish Kendra estimates a bigger figure of mysteriously missing people.

In many cases, the relatives of the missing persons alleged that law enforcers were involved in those incidents of enforced disappearance.

Some incidents of disappearance and murder have been carried out in exchange for money. Seven murder in Narayanganj is one such example.

The government has many times denied the incidents of disappearance. The home minister on several occasions said there is nothing called enforced disappearance. Many accused people went into hiding and their family members brand the incidents as disappearance.

Political activists-leaders are the worst victims

A big portion of the disappeared people are leaders and activists of political parties. BNP on 11 July 2017 published a list of 25 leaders and activists who disappeared from Dhaka alone. Although they did not publish any list, BNP alleged that 400 of their leaders and activists have disappeared during the current Awami League regime. Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing Islami Chhatra Shibir claimed 29 of their leaders and activists have been missing.

Incidents of disappearance of BNP leader Ilias Ali and Salauddin Ahmed created countrywide uproar. Before that, the leader of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal’s Sylhet unit Iftekhar Ahmed Dinar and Juned Ahmed were picked up by plainclothesmen in the capital’s Uttara on 3 April 2012. BNP leaders said a new era of enforced disappearance had started with this incident. BNP leader Ilias Ali disappeared just within two weeks. Iftekhar Ahmed Dinar’s sister and district Mohila Dal’s vice president Tamanna Shamim at that time told Prothom Alo, “I think enforced the disappearance of Dinar and Juned was a rehearsal. They just observed the reaction to that disappearance. They dared to carry out Ilias Ali's disappearance after everyone went silent out of fear.”

A total of 19 leaders and activists of BNP and associate organisations disappeared in just 24 days from 27 November of 2013, just before the national election that year. Laksham upazila BNP’s president and former member of parliament Saiful Islam, pourashava BNP president Humayun Kabir and one more were picked up on 27 November 2017.

Sajedul Islam, general secretary of BNP’s ward no. 38 and five others were picked up by people identifying themselves as Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) men on 4 December 2013. Two more were picked up from the capital’s Shahinbagh area on the same day.

At least 6 leaders and activists of Awami League and its associate organisations also disappeared in last eight years. Chhatra Union’s former leader Shamim Ahmed and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal’s leader Mohammad Ali Mohabbat were also disappeared.

Awami League leader Mahfuzur Rahman was picked up in front of his wife and mother in 2012. People identifying themselves as DB personnel picked him up. He was later shown arrested in a case of theft with New Market police station.

Jubo League leader Rakibul Islam was picked up from Comilla’s Munsef Quarter’s house in 2014 in presence of his parents and wife. His father Abdul Motin is a former army official, freedom fighter and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s bodyguard. He told Prothom Alo that Rakibul’s mother is almost mentally imbalanced after the disappearance of her son.

A group of people identifying themselves as law enforcers picked up Rampura Chhatra League’s general secretary Sheikh Moazzem Hossain from Basundhara residential area on 26 January 2016. The family is yet to get news of his whereabouts.

‘Missing’ public representatives

At least 6 public representatives went missing from 2009 to 2017. Dhaka city corporation’s councillor of ward no. 1 and BNP leader Chowdhury Alam went missing on 25 June 2010. Benapole pourashava’s mayor Torikul Alam went missing in 2013, Siddhirganj’s panel mayor Nazrul Islam in 2014 and Sarishabari’s mayor Ruknuzzaman Rukon went missing in the same year. They all were involved with Awami League politics. Rokon was found out from Srimangal after two days.

More victims of enforced disappearance

Mohammad Jamal Ahmed, a witness in Ahsan Ullah Master’s murder case, went missing in 2011. Scholastica School’s teacher Tanvir Ahmed, who was a suspect in journalist couple Sagor-Runi’s murder, went missing on 1 October 2012. Authorities after eight days announced that he was arrested. A youth named Mizanur Rahman was picked up eight days after the murder of Comilla Victoria College’s student Sohagi Jahan (Tonu). He was a friend of Tonu’s brother Anwar Hossain. Two weeks later, Mizanur was found blindfolded from Dhaka-Chhattogram highway. Kamrul Shikder (Musa), the prime accused over the murder of police officer Babul Akter’s wife Mahmuda Khanam, has been missing for a long time. His wife Panna Akhter claimed Musa has been a victim of enforced disappearance.

Analysing the data of Asian Human Rights Commission, it has been found that political leaders-activists and people suspected for militancy are most among the victims of enforced disappearance. People from various backgrounds including the driver of a political leader, a labour leader, businessmen, bank officials, physicians, lawyers, IT specialists and NGO officials have been the victim of disappearance.