Dis appearning Activists
Of the 74 people allegedly picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion in the first six months of 2014, dead bodies of 23 were found later.
The phenomenon of enforced disappearances has reached alarming proportions in Bangladesh.
The phenomenon of enforced disappearance of people is not exclusive to Bangladesh but it has reached alarming proportions there, drawing protests from human rights organizations, including the Amnesty International.
Bangladesh, however, is a late arrival in this infamous field in South Asia as Pakistan has been there much before.
In Pakistan, the victims of forced disappearances are allegedly young Baloch insurgents and separatists. They are supposedly apprehended by military and paramilitary agencies. In some cases, their mutilated bodies are found by the roadside after some days into their disappearance. In other cases, they are killed and buried in a mass grave. The Supreme Court takes notice, tries to recover the missing persons, is frustrated by the players behind the disappearances and gives up.
In Bangladesh, the main targets of such disappearances are the political opponents of the ruling Awami League. Their bodies are often found floating in a river.
It all began with the second coming of Sheikh Hasina in power as prime minister of the country through a walkover election boycotted by the opposition parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
In eight out of the 20 cases investigated by the Amnesty International, it was learnt that the disappearances were politically motivated and targeted the members of the BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami. The Amnesty International accused the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of abducting people and claimed that many disappearances seemed politically motivated “with prominent members of the opposition parties targeted."
In at least nine cases, the AI found simple corruption as a factor, where RAB personnel were "paid to disappear or murder people to settle political or economic scores." The RAB routinely denies the charges while the superior judiciary has showed a supine attitude in the matter.
In an interview with Deutsche Welle (DW), AI's researcher Abbas Faiz spoke of a gradual deterioration in the human rights situation in Bangladesh since 2013 as well as the rise in the number of enforced disappearances and curbs on freedom of expression.
After a thorough investigation of 20 cases of disappearance, AI found "overwhelming" evidence of RAB's direct involvement in these incidents. For the first time, in May this year, the RAB was forced to admit that some of its personnel were implicated in enforced disappearances. The evidence was just too overwhelming. As a result, three RAB personnel were arrested.
There is a common pattern. In almost all cases of enforced disappearance, "people dressed in civilian clothes forcefully abduct the victim using the identity of the law enforcers. The abducted person stays missing for some days." Sometimes a corpse is found. Otherwise, they remain traceless. Most of the missing people are believed to have been assassinated.
Despite several complaints by family members of the victims against law enforcement agencies – the Rapid Action Battalion and the Detective Branch (DB) – the government remains unmoved. It has not conducted any investigation into the matter and neither has it taken any action to prevent disappearances.
The AI has cited a few specific cases of disappearances involving politicians, businessmen and even a student. The first case is that of BNP leaders Saiful Islam Hiru, Humayun Kabir Parvez and Jashim Uddin. On November 27, last year, their car was stopped by some people wearing black uniforms. They were transferred to another vehicle and taken away. Later, RAB handed over Jashim Uddin to the police. The other two leaders, Saiful Islam Hiru and Humayun Kabir Parvez, are still missing.
In May this year, a businessman Muhammad Faqrul Islam was taken away by some RAB members in uniform
"in a car labeled RAB-3.” Faqrul’s family sent petitions to various departments of the government including the Home Ministry, RAB-3/1, the Ramna Police station and the DB office, but to no avail.
Amazingly, even the ruling party's workers are not safe. Ruhul Amin, the Awami League’s joint-convener of ward no 56 Dhaka Metropolitan, was taken away "by people in civilian clothes wearing identity cards of the DB police” on May 26 and remains untraced. On June 26, Nurul Amin, a student of the Jagannath University, was reported missing. He was arrested "in front of the Gulshan police station allegedly by members of a law enforcement agency dressed in civilian clothes." He, too, remains traceless ever since. The family members of both victims have knocked every door but found no relief.
The AI report claims 53 disappearances in 2013. The dead bodies of five missing persons were found, two were released, three were handed over to police and two were sent to jail. According to the report, 229 people were victims of enforced disappearance or abduction between 2010 and 2013. Out of these, 37 were traced in custody while abandoned bodies of 31 were found later.
It is not the Amnesty International alone that highlights the crime. The media of Bangladesh has been reporting these abductions for a long time. For instance, a leading Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star reported that 74 people were picked up allegedly by law enforcement agencies like RAB in the first six months of 2014; abandoned bodies of 23 of them were found later.
Reacting to the AI's report, the RAB released a statement which quoted its spokesman Mufty Mahmud Khan as saying: "The allegations are baseless as RAB is never involved in incidents of enforced disappearance or secret killings."
He said the people arrested by the RAB on different charges were always handed over to the police in line with the legal procedure to be exposed to subsequent legal actions and that "we never arrested those who are said to be victims of enforced disappearance."
The RAB spokesman was backed by State Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal who is also in charge of the RAB. He questioned the authenticity of the media reports and claimed that "50 to 60 percent reports of enforced disappearance or secret killings were baseless."
In such a situation, especially when the superior judiciary remains a mute spectator instead of defending the fundamental rights of the citizens, Bangladesh may descend into further chaos.