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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of Southasia Mag­a­zine.

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.

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