The man was waiting by the roadside for transport to go home one night in the capital city. Suddenly a gang of six or seven people came up and forced him into a microbus. They tied his hands and blindfolded him. Now one answered his frantic questions. The microbus speeded along.
When the abductors reached their destination, the man had no idea where he was. He didn’t realise he would have to stay in that unknown place for the next six months of 2016.
A total of 432 people were subjected to such enforced disappearance during the rule of the incumbent Awami League government between 1 January 2009 and 31 July 2018, said the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in a news release issued on Wednesday.
The rights body issued the release marking the International Day of the Disappeared on Thursday.
Among the disappeared, only 250 people have managed to return home until now but they never talk about the horrific experience. Many of them are undergoing therapy to overcome the traumatic experience.
Unknown persons identified themselves as members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Detective Branch (DB) of police or other law enforcement agencies before picking up the victims, said Ain O Salish Kendra, quoting the victims’ family members and relatives.
The families said they could not file general diaries regarding the incidents.
The law enforcement agencies, however, always denied the allegations brought against them.
“Whenever police receives information of anyone’s disappearance, they try their best to find the person, keeping in constant contact with the family and adhering to legal procedures,” said assistant inspector general (AIG, Media) of police headquarters Sohel Rana.
Five people, who were subjected to enforced disappearance in 2016 and 2017, talked to Prothom Alo recently. Their names, however, were not published for security reasons.
What the victims said
The man who was quoted in the beginning of this report, had fallen asleep inside the vehicle. He woke up after reaching the destination. They asked whether he wanted to eat something. Afterwards, they began interrogation about his house, bank account, family, apps used on his mobile phone, friends, social sites and the ideologies of Awami League, Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami and militant groups and other issues. They however, kept him blindfolded except the days when they gave him fish to eat.
The victim thought he could have made the abductors understand if he were allowed to talk with eye contact. The abductors gave good food, he said, mentioning that he used to sleep on the floor of a small dark room. Those who had quizzed seem highly efficient, he told Prothom Alo.
About his release, he said one day a man came and told him he would be shifted to another place. He was released after a long ride, he said. On the way he heard only directions given to the driver.
“Staying in jail for 14 years is better than being a victim of enforced disappearance. At least I would know then where I am and why. I do not know where I passed so many days of my life,” a victim said.
Normal life still eludes
Many of the victims of enforced disappearance could not return to normal life while a number of them had to undergo medical treatment.
A relative of a victim who returned home after remaining missing for several months, said the abductors unsettled the man by asking the same question time and again. He does not talk like before. He had been suffering from photophobia, fear of light, as he was kept blindfolded for several months. He can only read larger letters and remains panicked and restless. He does not go outside now.
Two other victims of enforced disappearance have been suffering from insomnia. One of them said immediately after being picked up the abductors, they used some sort of chemical on him. Now he does not go outside home alone and always carries a licensed gun.
The country’s principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) central executive committee member Chowdhury Alam disappeared in 2010. In the following years the incidents of disappearance of political personalities continued. Former BNP MP Ilias Ali disappeared in 2012.
Persons still missing include war criminal Ghulam Azam’s son Abdullahil Aman Azmi and hanged Jamaat-e-Islami leader Mir Quasem Ali’s son Mir Ahmed Bin Quasem.
However, the list of the victims is not limited to political leaderships only. Former ambassadors, university teachers, lawyers and ruling party’s MPs are also on the list.
*This report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza