Wednesday, September 3, 2014

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance: The Bangladesh Chapter

August 30 is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance. The crime of enforced disappearance may be considered a way to create terror in society, when victims are picked up and never seen again; and where victim families are left in a maelstrom of fear, uncertainty and, in many cases economic crises. The international community has condemned this form of human rights violation through resolution 65/209 ; where the UN General Assembly expressed its deep concern regarding the increase in enforced or involuntary disappearances in various regions of the world, including arrest, detention and abduction, when these are part of or amount to enforced disappearances. Through this resolution the Assembly also adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. [1]

The Government of Bangladesh has ratified the Convention against Torture, but has yet to accede to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In Bangladesh today, the human rights violation of enforced disappearances is on an alarming rise. In fact, when a person is arrested or picked up by people claiming to be from a law enforcement agency, the common fear is that he may be tortured – or disappear. According to statistics from the human rights organisation, Odhikar, between January 2009 and 28 August 2014, 148 persons have disappeared. According to witnesses and family members, they were picked up by persons either claiming to be law enforcers or wearing uniforms. [1] Most of them never returned. Many such disappearances have also resulted in extrajudicial killings, or to put it in a reverse order, almost all extrajudicial killings somehow resulted from enforced such involuntary disappearances. While the government keeps trying to wash its hands of the matter, such incidents keep taking place, in a similar fashion — people going missing, families and neighbours claiming that people in uniforms or plain clothes, in white vans, have picked them up, law enforcement personnel denying their involvement and refusing to record cases, some later being found dead with marks of injury and few found alive, shaken and distraught. [2]

According to Ain o Shalish Kendro (ASK) statistics, whereabouts of about 219 people, including Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s organising secretary Ilias Ali and his fellow party man Chowdhury Alam, have remained shrouded in mystery for years. Families of the victims and witnesses blamed RAB for picking up 83 people while detective branch for 38, ‘law enforcers’ for 55 and plainclothes men for 20 others reported between January 2007 and August 2014, according to the ASK report. The report also said that at least 70 leaders and activists of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami fell victim to enforced disappearance while 37 others were activists of ruling Awami League. No case was filed after the ‘incident’ of Ilias Ali along with his driver on the night of April 17 in the capital’s Banani, rather a general diary was recorded and it was still under investigation.

On April 27, an armed group identifying themselves as ‘law enforcers’ had picked up seven people, including Narayanganj panel mayor Nazrul Islam and senior lawyer Chandan Kumar Sarker from Dhaka-Narayanganj link road. Their bodies were found floating in Shitalakhya river after a few days. Families of the victims have accused RAB of the killings in exchange for money. Following an order from the High Court, the police arrested the then RAB-11 chief Tareque Sayeed Mohammad, also son-in-law of cabinet member Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, the then special company commander, Arif Hossain, and the then crime prevention company commander, Masud Rana, on May 17 and May 18. So far eight RAB personnel have been arrested in this connection. The RAB men confessed to committing the crimes before judicial magistrates in Narayanganj under Section 164 of Code of Criminal Procedure. [3]

And of course few will forget the abduction and disappearance of labor rights leaders Aminul Islam on the 4th of April 2012 by security forces, only to be found dead 2 days later beside the road in Ashulia, Savar in Dhaka, his body bearing signs of gruesome torture at the hands of security forces. [10]

Abduction of students by State forces:

On February 5, 2012 approximately at 1.00 a.m. Al Mukaddas (22), 4th year student of the Department of Al Fiqah and Mohammad Waliullah (23), a Masters candidate of Dawah and Islamic Studies Department of Islamic University, were allegedly arrested and disappeared by some persons who identified themselves as RAB-4 and DB Police members from Savar. 

Both were members of the Islamic student organization Bangladesh Islami Chhatra Shibir and were allegedly detained by members of the RAB and the Detective Branch (DB) of the Bangladesh Police on 4 February. They have not been heard from since and their whereabouts are unknown. The RAB has denied detaining the two men in a statement to a Bangladeshi newspaper. However, reports from several sources and a pattern of disappearances thought to have been conducted by RAB in recent months cast doubt on RAB’s denial. [4][5][6][8]

Mohammad Zakir Hossain, an internee student of Dental at Dhaka Institute of Medical Technology disappeared on 2nd May 2013 from Mohammadpur area of Dhaka city.  It is highly suspected that he was abducted by security forces RAB and DB that night after he went out from house no. 19/6 Tkkapara, 2nd Floor, flat no. 4/e, Mohammadpur on 2nd April night at 8.00 PM heading to Dental College Institute in order to collect some important papers since he was never seen again. He was the acting President of Adabar thana of Dhaka City West unit of Bangladesh Islami Chatra Shibir.[5] 

On April 5, 2013 at around 2:25am, members of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) -5 arrested Mohammad Anwarul Islam (28) the son of Mohammad Israil and Mosammat Nurjahan Begumof Angariapara village in Chapainawabganj from house number 175 of Bil-Shimla Moholla under Rajpara Police Station in Rajshahi district. Later, when family members contacted the RAB-5 office, RAB notified that Anwarul  had never been arrested by them. An allegation of enforced disappearance was brought against the members of RAB by Anwarul’s family members.

Upon inquiry, it was found that Anwarul was a last year Master’s student of Mathematics department of Rajshahi College. Moreover, he was the Office Secretary of the Islami Chattra Shibir of Rajshahi district. Anwar was known as Masum in the area. He resided at his maternal uncle, Mr. Fazlur Rahman’s house in Bil-Shimla Moholla for his studies, since it was more convenient.[7]

Tazammul Ali, a student of the department of Islamic Studies of Rajshahi University (RU), was abducted by security forces on June 24, 2013 along with another student of Jahangirnagar University Azizul Islam. As per witness testimony, at about 11.30 pm on June 23, 2013, Tazammul and Azizul started their journey by a bus of Hanif Enterprise along with Ismail Hossain who came to Dhaka for his physical treatment. Next day, finishing their primary tasks, they went to call on a teacher of People’s University (Former student of RU). At about 5.15 pm, after the meeting with the teacher, they were waiting for bus in front of People’s University when, 8-10 members of Detective Branch (DB) of police abducted Azizul and Tazammul while Ismail Ismail Hossain was able to run away as he was away from them. No information on the two students has been uncovered to date. Witnesses said, “The security personnel arrested and picked up them on a white micro bus”. However, Police, RAB and other security forces have explicitly denied the fact of abduction of those two students.[5]

The Abduction of Shukhoranjan Bali:

Shukhoranjan Bali was initially a state (prosecution) witness against Islamic cleric and senior Jamaat leader Allama Delwar Hossain Sayedee at the International Crimes Tribunal, but became a cause of serious embarrassment for the government when he decided to change his previous statement implicating Sayedee in the murder of his brother in 1971. Instead he agreed to give evidence in favour of Sayedee claiming that the Prosecution coerced him to give false testimony against Sayedee. On 5th November last year, as he was on his way to the tribunal to testify accompanied by Sayedee’s defense lawyers, he was allegedly abducted by law enforcement officers in plain clothes and taken away in a police van. With a biased, state censored media, the Government made sure that the Bali incident did not make much noise.

The twist to the otherwise well concealed incident dramatically came about recently when a local newspaper published a report claiming that Bali is locked up in a Kolkata prison serving a sentence of 105 days for illegally crossing borders to India.[9]

Taking all the above into question, it is imperative that we all unite in understanding and realizing the fact that enforced disappearances have become a huge problem in the country today. Moreover, taking the fact that this phenomenon has spiked unnaturally during the tenure of the present government (since 2009) should act a warning to the world about the safety of human rights at the hands of this government. The first step in any solution is the acknowledging of the fact that we have a serious problem. Unfortunately, the government and the security forces still deny any wrongdoing and alarmingly insist on anointing these regular disappearances as “isolated incidents”. The government has done little, if any, to alleviate the fears of common citizens, utterly failing in providing them a better situation of law and order, which only seems to be becoming worse day by day.   

1. “Out of Sight but not Out of Mind” by Saira Rahman Khan []
2. “Time to end enforced disappearances”, New Age Editorial []
3. The List grows longer, New Age by Muktadir Rashid []
4. Urgent Appeal for Action for disappeared students Waliullah and Al-Mukaddas: Amnesty USA []
5. Abduction and Enforced Disappearances of 8 Shibir activists: Shibir website report []
6. Bangladesh: Enforced disappearance of Messrs. Al Mukaddas and Mohammad Waliullah, OMCT []
7. “Arrest and enforced disappearance of Mohammad Anwarul Islam by Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) members”, Odhikar Report []
8. “Two persons were disappeared after being arrested at Savar allegedly by RAB and DB Police”, Odhikar Report []
9. “Victim of the State: The Disappearance and Reappearance of Shukhoranjan Bali” by Nabil ahsan, The Platform []
10. “Fighting for Bangladesh Labor, and Ending Up in Pauper’s Grave”, The New York Times []

Posters on the occasion of International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance in Bangladesh:

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Photo Blog: Demo for Gaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Today, the 16th of August, I attended a demonstration in Dhaka today against the indiscriminate Israeli aggression in Palestine, particularly upon the inhabitants of Gaza. People from all walks of life turned out in large numbers to attend the demo and make their voices heard. 

The demonstration was one of the largest in recent history for the Palestinian cause in Bangladesh, and is among a series of demonstrations called by the 20 party alliance, the unofficial opposition alliance of Bangladesh. The alliance is graced by heavy weight parties such as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the main opposition party of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, the third largest party in the country as evidenced by the recent upazila polls in Bangladesh. 

Demonstrators gathered at Naya Paltan in front of BNP central office from early morning for a program that was scheduled to begin at about 3 pm local time. When the program began, the crowds had gathered in their thousands over a huge area spreading from Malibag intersection to Kakrail intersection to Naya Paltan to Fakirapool. 

The anger in the people was evident as they chanted against the oppressors in Gaza and furiously waved their flags and rallied steadfast in protest. The rally ended at about 5 pm local time. Here are some of the pictures I took of the rally featuring people from all walks of life who had turned out to demonstrate despite the bad weather and the heavy presence of government security forces, armed with riot gear and equipped with water cannons and APC's.