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Growing Concern for Stopping Ordeals by Forced Disappearances in Bangladesh By -Md. Kamruzzaman (Bablu)

Cover Story

One of the gruesome aspects of present Bangladesh is forced disappearance and the pollution of this unhealthy practice has already crossed national boundary seriously blemishing country’s image in global forum. The whole world knows very well that the present Bangladesh is a country run by a party assumed power through a one-sided election in January 5, 2014 for a consecutive second tenure and ruling the country through fascism.Extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, secret detention, murders, rapes, corruption, extortion, political harassment and the like have turned into a part and parcel of day to day life of the inhabitants of this country. Especially the life of the members of rival political force has been vitiated due to the continuous torturing perpetrated by the law enforcing agencies and other powerful organs of the country like the judiciary under government patronization.
The 3rd July (2017) kidnapping of country’s noted columnist and poet Farhad Mazhar is believed to be one of the most despicable practices of forced disappearance in a wave of continuous abduction of activists and opposition figures. However, amid growing concern from home and abroad country’s law enforcing agencies rescued the government critic 16 hours later from Jessore. After the dramatic rescue, the traumatized columnist was produced before the court and then admitted into a hospital under self-care in the capital and no specific clue of his abduction was yet unearthed. But the routine blame-game took no times and the two main political forces — the ruling Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — started blaming each other.
However, the issue hugely propagated in the global media. For an example, I like to draw the attention to a report published in one of the world’s leading and London-based influential newspapers “The Guardian” on 12th July (2017) with the headline “Bangladesh’s disappeared: activist found on bus claims he was latest target”. In preparing that report the Guardian Correspondent talked with the noted poet and intellectual Farhad Mazhar. In reply to the query of the Guardian, the Bangladesh government critic briefly narrated how he was abducted by three unknown miscreants. The human rights activist also vowed that he would be silenced about the ordeals and would continue to campaign against human rights abuses in Bangladesh. A few parts of the Guardian’s report are as follows:
“Farhad Mazhar, a poet and social activist, claims he was forced into a minibus by three men while walking near his home in Dhaka last week (3rd July 2017). He was found about 16 hours later in a town more than 120 miles (200km) from the Bangladesh capital.
News that Mazhar had gone missing was widely reported last Monday amid growing international concern, including from the United Nations, about the number of forced disappearances in Bangladesh, which human rights groups say are mostly perpetrated by the country’s security services.
His interview with the Guardian from his hospital bed in Dhaka is the first time an alleged abductee in Bangladesh has spoken publicly to domestic or foreign media. ‘They used some harsh language, took away my mobile and blindfolded me,’ he recalled. ‘They used their knees to keep me pinned down on the floor of the minibus.’
Mazhar said on Wednesday (12th July 2017) he was unsure who had allegedly abducted him from a street near his home at about 5am last week. ‘That morning I had had problems with my eyes and so I left my home to buy medicine,’ he said. ‘Suddenly three men appeared on the sidewalk and they pushed me inside a white minibus.’
He said he managed to fish his mobile from his pocket and call his wife. ‘It was a short call. I whispered: ‘They are taking me away, they will kill me.’ I spoke to her for just a few seconds before they noticed it,’ he said.
The men blindfolded Mazhar and took his phone, he said. Believing if he called his wife again, police could track his location, he offered to pay the men a ransom to release him. ‘They gave me the mobile and I spoke to my wife a few times on the issue,’ he said.
‘The bus kept travelling for hours. They abused me, throwing foul language at me sometimes. They also slapped me,’ he said. ‘Around 10 or 12 hours later, the men said they would release me. They took off the blindfold and dropped me at a secluded place when it was a little dark’.
‘They gave me a bus ticket and asked me to take the bus from Khulna city to go back to Dhaka. I walked some distance and reached a market in Khulna, where I had some food before boarding the bus at 9.15 pm,’ he said.
Mazhar says he has no idea who was responsible for his kidnapping. ‘My abductors were in plain clothes. I don’t know who they were or which group they belonged to,’ he said. ‘I made several phone calls to my wife while I was captive. Police could locate my position from my calls after the microbus left Dhaka, I found out later. I am surprised why police could not intercept the microbus well before it reached Khulna.’
Mazhar said he was still experiencing ‘heavy trauma’ and would need time to recover. ‘But I am not afraid to reveal what happened to me,’ he said. ‘People become mysteriously silent after they emerge alive from enforced disappearances. When I return to work I will begin working on this issue. We have to end this culture of enforced disappearances.’”
Thus by the report of the world’s leading newspaper based on the statement of the on-treatment Mazhar we come to know that even the victim himself is not clear about his kidnappers but he is doubting that he might have been abducted for his critical role against the human rights violation in Bangladesh. Especially, just one day before his abduction he took part a press conference with Mahamudur Rahman, the Editor of Bangla Daily “The Amardesh”, known to be one of the strongest voices against the fascism of the government. In that press conference Mazhar emphasized on a participatory general election for the restoration of democracy in true sense. There is much speculation whether the press conference and the kidnapping have any connectivity.
Meanwhile, On July 4, Farhad Mazhar, in a judicial statement before a magistrate, said several unidentified men forced him into a microbus and blindfolded him minutes after he came out of his Adabor house to buy medicines in the early hours of July 3. Later, law enforcers found him on a bus of Hanif Paribahan in Jessore’s Noapara around 11:30pm on the same day.
The judicial statement of Farhad Mazhar was published in most of the country’s leading news media on 12th July 2017. One of the headlines of the leading English daily of Bangladesh “The Daily Star” on that day was “Farhad Mazhar Kidnap: Concern over bid to divert attention”. The report was mainly about the twenty-one eminent citizens’ concern over what they said was a vested quarter trying to distract from the incident of abduction of poet and writer Farhad Mazhar through a smear campaign. The report also quoted comments of a high up of the concerned law enforcing agency on the updates of investigation over the case.
The report states, “Meanwhile, investigators are yet to be sure of how Farhad Mazhar journeyed to Khulna from Dhaka on July 3. Hafiz Al Asad, senior assistant commissioner of west division of the detective branch of police, told The Daily Star that they are investigating the case with professionalism. ‘We did not find any evidence that he went to Khulna on a microbus.’”
It means that even nine days after the abduction, police were trying to trace out the culprits without any significant progress. But they, in their language, were trying heart and soul to nab the abductors of Mazhar.
Unfortunately, the inspector general of police (IGP) like the so-called politicians of Bangladesh accused Mazhar of making drama to embarrass government. On the day of finalizing this write up on 17th July 2017 the clue of Farhad Mazhar kidnapping was not found. How the top boss of police could utter such a political statement that Mazhar staged the drama of kidnapping to embarrass the government without investigation! Countries all media outlets treated such petty political statement of the IGP with utmost importance. The headline of the English daily “The Daily Sun” on 14th July 2017 was “Farhad Mazhar was not abducted: IGP”. Some parts of the report are as follows:
“Inspector General of Police (IGP) AKM Shahidul Hoque on Thursday (13th July 2017) said that noted poet and columnist Farhad Mazhar was not abducted, rather he left Dhaka and returned on his own accord. ‘After analysing data and information during investigation, it seems that Farhad Mazhar left Dhaka and came back on his own accord,’ said the IGP while briefing journalists at police headquarters in the capital.
At the same time, it also seems that Mazhar staged the kidnapping drama to embarrass the government and to make some money, the IGP said. Mazhar crossed Aricha ferry ghat when his family members informed the law enforcers about his abduction in the morning of July 3, he said. ‘Normally abductors use microbus. So, we ordered police across the country to check microbuses, but they didn’t find any clue of Mazhar,’ Shahidul Hoque informed.
Mazhar called his wife 10 times and another woman six times, the IGP said. Mazhar roamed around Khulna New Market area from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, he stated. It was seen in the CCTV footage of the market, he said. The IGP also said that they would scrutinise whether Farhad Mazhar had lied, and if found, necessary actions, as per law, will be taken against him.”
Now, look at the Guardian’s report again. Mazhar already said to the Guardian that the kidnappers freed him while reaching Khulna. Moreover, Mazhar offered the kidnappers to pay a ransom and managed them allowing him to make phone calls to his wife. However, without a conclusive investigation nothing can be clear. But based on a few elements any one-sided public statement by the top boss of police is obviously unethical and non-professional.
Meanwhile, a judicial statement of a female employee of Mazhar’s NGO has been published in the media. The headline of “The Daily Star” on 11th July 2017 on this statement was “Farhad Mazhar ‘Abduction’: ‘Ex-female employee of his NGO gives statement under 164’”. Quoting the statement the Star reports, “The writer contacted her several times on July 3, the day he reportedly went missing from outside his Adabar residence in the capital, court and police sources said. She said the writer gave her Tk 15,000 through a mobile banking platform around 7:00pm that day.
…According to her statement, the writer on July 3 called her five to six times and she phoned him two to three times. Around 6:20am, Farhad told the woman that he was on his way to collect money for her. ‘At around 11:00am, I phoned him and wanted to know whether he had been abducted. He told me that he was alright.’”
So until filing up this write up minimum three different types of information could be found in the Mazhar abduction case excluding the direct fingering of BNP to the law enforcing agencies. So a proper investigation is a must at first to unearth the real fact. But the political statement of the IGP and blame games between the two main political parties made the whole situation very clumsy. This unhealthy culture as well as the critical situation of Bangladesh has also been focused in Guardian’s report.
Quoting human rights organization the Guardian highlighted the alarming scenario of disappearances in Bangladesh mainly the opposition activists and government critics. The report says: “Odhikar, a Dhaka-based human rights group, estimates about 223 people have been forcibly disappeared in Bangladesh in the past three years. About 18 have been released, but none have spoken on the record about their ordeal. The silence often extends to the families of the disappeared, including the 31 who have been found dead since July 2014. ‘Families are scared to talk about it because other members of the family may suffer the consequences,’ said Adilur Rahman Khan, a Supreme Court advocate and the secretary of Odhikar.”
The present situation of Bangladesh is more dangerous. Raping, Harassment, murder, extra-judicial killing, forced disappearance, secret detention and the like have become almost a regular practice. The recently published report of the US-based research organization “Human Rights Watch (HRW)” shows the scenario. A few parts of the report are as follows:
“Bangladesh law enforcement authorities have illegally detained hundreds of people since 2013, including scores of opposition activists, and held them in secret detention, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today (6th July 2017). The Bangladesh government should immediately stop this widespread practice of enforced disappearances, order prompt, impartial, and independent investigations into these allegations, provide answers to families, and prosecute security forces responsible for such egregious rights violations.
The 82-page report, ‘‘We Don’t Have Him’: Secret Detentions and Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh,’ found that at least 90 people were victims of enforced disappearance in 2016 alone. While most were produced in court after weeks or months of secret detention, Human Rights Watch documented 21 cases of detainees who were later killed, and nine others whose whereabouts remain unknown. The 90 cases include three sons of prominent opposition politicians who were picked up over several weeks in August 2016; one was released after six months of secret detention, while the other two remain disappeared. In the first five months of 2017, 48 disappearances were reported. There are allegations of severe torture and ill-treatment while in secret custody.
‘The disappearances are well-documented and reported, yet the government persists in this abhorrent practice with no regard for the rule of law,’ said Brad Adams, Asia director. ‘Bangladesh security forces appear to have a free hand in detaining people, deciding on their guilt or innocence, and determining their punishment, including whether they have the right to be alive.’
Unfortunately, the report of the HRW was vehemently rejected by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan. He termed the report based on smear campaign. Without taking cognizance of the report the Home boss very unfortunately blamed the international organization. Being informed about such reaction of the Bangladeshi Home Minister the HRW issued another statement entitled, “Instead of Investigating, Authorities Reject Report of Enforced Disappearances” on 7th July 2017. A few parts of the statement are as follows:
“Human Rights Watch has produced a detailed analysis of cases where individuals were picked up, often in front of witnesses or family members by security forces who identified themselves as members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), Detective Branch (DB), or the ‘administration.’ When these people were not produced in court within 24 hours, as required under Bangladeshi law, family members repeatedly approached police and other officials, who denied the person was detained. While many of these men were eventually produced in court, after a period of weeks or months of illegal detention, others were released with warnings to stay silent. Several were later found killed in so-called gunfights or ‘cross-fire,’ and scores remain ‘disappeared’.
Instead of committing to investigate these incidents, Khan declared his government will ‘reject the report outright.’ As head of the ministry responsible for internal security, Khan claimed the United Nations had never mentioned enforced disappearances. In fact, like the detailed letters sent by Human Rights Watch requesting comment on these abuses, the Bangladesh government has ignored repeated queries from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The Human Rights Committee has also issued stern warnings.”
It is a harsh reality that the present government of Bangladesh wants to control everything by force. When the home minister on behalf of the government brushes aside a detailed investigation report of an international organisation like the HRW, how can we expect a proper investigation about the abduction of a government critic like Farhad Mazhar? Moreover, when the police boss formally utters one-sided statement like wicked politicians before the completion of investigation over sensitive issues just to adulate the government, proper inquiry seems to be far ahead. All these unhealthy practices should be stopped immediately and in all forced disappearances and human rights abuses by law enforcers should be probed impartially for the greater interest of democracy and rule of law.

Writer: journalist, email: mkzbablu@gmail.com

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