Abduction, for silencing political rivals or for criminal extortion, followed by killing without any trace of the deadbody has become a routine affair in Bangladesh under the third and unashamedly lawless regime of Sheikh Hasina. Mr. Suranjit Sengupta, a former minister and senior member of the Advisory Council of the Awami League candidly admitted to an audience of ruling party supporters that “of late abduction and forced disappearances have crossed all limits.”
He referred to the kidnapping in broad daylight of a panel mayor of Narayanganj City Corporation and four of his companions (one of them an eminent lawyer) by men passing off as Security Agency personnel and to the mysterious abduction the week before, again from Narayanganj in broad daylight, of a Garment Industry Executive (later released) who is close to a minister of the present cabinet and husband of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyer’s Association chief Syeda Rizwana Hasan.
He also referred to the kidnapping and torture to death last year of seventeen year-old Tanwir Muhammad Twaki. A meritorious A-level student, Twaki was found dead on March 8, 2013, two days after he had gone missing, on the banks of the Sitalakhya river in Narayanganj. He had been brutally murdered.
Godfather MP accused
His father, a public figure widely respected for his honesty and dedication to many social and people power movements, squarely accused the ruling party Member of Parliament Shameem Osman and his family, calling them Narayanganj’s “godfathers”, who allegedly ruled the port city for 3 generations through payoffs, kickbacks, violence and terror. The case has remained unresolved.
Suranjit said: “Had the trial of Twaki murder case taken place, then the abductions of Abu Bakar Siddique (husband of Rizwana Hasan) and these five people wouldn’t have taken place. Everybody of those abducted do not belong to the opposition. We should not ignore the incidents of abduction under any circumstance. We must bring the culprits to justice as people, after the Naryanganj incidents, have started believing that the law and order situation across the country has now turned fragile. Those committing these crimes do not believe in the rule of law, and the denial of rule of law is like the denial of an elected government.”
Suranjit also darkly hinted at possible existence of a shady government operating beyond the control of the government office-holders of the party in power: “It’s not acceptable a (secret) government (operates) outside the (pale of the) elected government. We can’t show any leniency here. We must ensure rule of law at any cost. Such kinds of missing and abduction are contrary to the rule of law. People go to the court to seek justice. Rule of law will fail if people are abducted from there. Lawyer is the officer of the court. He is the man of the government. But, he was also abducted. The culprits must be brought before the people employing all kinds of forces. The law enforcers can’t make any excuse saying that ‘we didn’t see,’ ‘we don’t know,’ or ‘we don’t understand.’ Those who are behind such abduction must be brought to justice at any cost. We must find out the perpetrators behind the forced disappearances, abductions and extrajudicial killings.”
People feel insecure
Taking up that cue, Awami League Presidium member and Communication Minister Obaidul Quader explicitly alleged that the BNP was trying to fish in troubled waters by resorting to abductions and killings in a bid to destabilise the country:
“The way the BNP is issuing threats, I think they are involved in the recent abduction and killing incidents across the country. So, there is no scope to treat their threat lightly.”
The BNP Secretary General (Acting) Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, on the other hand, came out with facts and figures about the opposition leaders and activists eliminated or kidnapped without trace in course of the transition of Sheikh Hasina’s continuance in power. The BNP leader said: “People are increasingly feeling insecure as killings and forced disappearances are occurring one after another in broad daylight. Killings and enforced disappearances are occurring one after another, but the law enforcing agencies are not doing anything to deal with it. A total of 272 BNP leaders and activists had been killed, and 25 others disappeared, in the 14 months since January 2013. Ruling party cadres, RAB and the police carried out these killings and disappearances. While the bodies of some of those abducted were found, the others could not be traced. Such extrajudicial killings also occurred during 1972-74.
I call upon the media to reveal the truth, through proper investigation, as to why such incidents are taking place. I urge the people, as well as party ranks and files to get united, to stop such killings and disappearances all over the country.”
A pro-government English daily found anomalies in the figures quoted by BNP Secretary General (Acting), but the exercise did not mitigate the gravity of the picture of lawlessness prevailing in the country.
Quoting the human rights NGO Ain O Salish Kendro and its own reports, the daily said forced disappearances, allegedly by law-enforcers were 39 in January to March quarter of 2014 and 6 in April, i.e. a total of 45 so far this year. Of them, 26 are untraced, 6 were released and 13 were found dead and their bodies recovered. In 2013, the daily said, Ain O Salish Kendro found evidence of 68 disappearances.
’Democracy on crossfire’
In its latest review dated April 29, 2014, Human Rights Watch of New York gave details in 64 pages of “Democracy in the Crossfire: Opposition Violence and Government Abuses in the 2014 Pre-and Post-Election Period in Bangladesh.” In particular, Human Rights Watch repeated its call to the government to end the reign of impunity enjoyed by Bangladesh’s security forces: “After the elections, the security forces unlawfully arrested opposition leaders, naming them as suspects in violent attacks. Researchers documented the killing or unlawful arrests of 19 opposition leaders and activists. In nine of the killings, authorities claimed that the victims were killed in crossfire during gunfights between the security forces and armed criminals. In all nine cases, there is strong reason to question the official account. In several of the alleged crossfire cases, witnesses said the killed person had been detained hours or days earlier, contradicting government claims. Security forces have little credibility when they simply claim that suspects die in crossfire, as they have regularly invoked the killed in crossfire explanation to justify what the evidence later showed to be cold-blooded executions of detainees or suspects.”
Given Bangladesh’s long failure to deliver on justice, Human Rights Watch called on the government to establish an independent, external body to conduct prompt, impartial, and independent investigations into all allegations of violations by law enforcement agencies including the police, the Rapid Action Battalion, and the Bangladesh Border Guards. Such a mechanism should be invested with the mandate to investigate and to recommend prosecution of commanding officers and others in a position of authority who knew of abuses and failed to take action to prevent or punish abuses.
Diplomatic pressures mount
Apart from such calls for external intervention to investigate “Crimes against humanity”, according to BNP, being perpetrated with impunity by the party-in-power through abuse of state agencies, diplomatic pressure is also mounting on the government for a fresh election to legitimize continuity of government. In the second week of April, the Canadian High Commission wanted to know, officially from the new foreign minister appointed by Sheikh Hasina, what preparations had the government made for the promised dialogue with opposition parties who boycotted the January 5 elections which were mostly passed through motions on paper without any real voting. In the third week of April, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia made a public speech warning that Bangladesh stability was at risk: “In Bangladesh, we continue to press for greater political inclusion, without with, a more stable and prosperous future is put at risk.”
In the last week of April, presumably to rebuke ruling party leaders boasting that the present government will run a full five year’s term, visiting German MP Dagmar Woehrl leading a parliamentary delegation “appraised” the Speaker of the impugned tenth parliament, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury of the Bundestag “concerns that the current Parliament might not enjoy sufficient acceptance by the people for going the full 5 years distance.”
One wonders whether the lawless regime will remain unashamedly obdurate to a point of no return for democracy surviving the cross-fire. n
Courtesy: The Weekly Holiday