A Bangladeshi professor who was reported missing six weeks ago returned home Friday after his unidentified abductors left him blindfolded on a busy Dhaka highway, family members and police said.
Mubashar Hasan, a political science professor at the privately-run North South University in Dhaka, said his abductors pushed him out of a minivan when they released him near an airport road around midnight Thursday.
“Then they said, ‘Run, do not look back, if you look back, we will kill you’,” Mubashar told reporters outside his home.
The case was the second reappearance in two days of a Bangladeshi civilian who claimed to have been kidnapped, held as captives and later freed in eerily similar ways.
The two men were among at least 15 people who vanished during the past four months, with some coming back alive and others remaining missing. Human rights group have raised suspicions that these were victims of enforced disappearances carried out by members of the police or government security services.
Five of these people returned home narrating similar stories. Law-enforcement agencies later produced six people in separate court appearances, but four others remain missing.
In Mubashar’s case, colleagues said he was doing research on Islamic militancy in Bangladesh when he vanished on Nov. 7.
Mubashar reappeared a day after Utpal Das, a senior correspondent for the online news portal Purbo Pashchim, returned home and narrated a similar experience.
“While pushing me out of the microbus, they ordered me, ‘Don’t look back.’ We will shoot if you look back,’” Utpal told BenarNews shortly after his release Wednesday in neighboring Narayanganj district.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan told BenarNews that the two men got their freedom back because law-enforcement officers worked hard for their release.
“The abductors could not harm them as our police, RAB and intelligence agencies worked sincerely for their release,” he said, using the acronym for the Rapid Action Battalion, the anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladeshi police.
Asked if police would investigate the alleged abductions, Khan replied, “Look, the victims will have to file cases that they were abducted or whisked away by some persons. They said they will not file any case in this regard. If they file cases, we will investigate.”
Jahangir Kabir Khan, a police inspector, told BenarNews that he had interviewed Mubashar early Friday, but police could not identify the professor’s captors based on his statements.
“He told me that the people who gave him food covered their faces with towels,” Jahangir said. “So, he could not say who abducted him.”
Mubashar told Jahangir that he would not file a complaint against his abductors.
“As he will not file any case, we need not produce him before the court,” Jahangir said.
‘A free hand in detaining people’
In July, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), accused Bangladeshi law-enforcement agencies of illegally detaining hundreds of people since 2013.
An 82-page report released then by the global rights watchdog found that at least 90 people in Bangladesh, including scores of opposition activists, were victims of enforced disappearances in 2016 alone. While most were produced in court after weeks or months of detention in secret cells, 21 people were killed, HRW said.
“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,” Brad Adams, the rights group’s Asia director, said during the report’s release.
Sultana Kamal, a prominent human rights activist in Bangladesh, said she could not prove that Mubashar and Utpal were abducted by law-enforcement officers.
“Without proof and investigation, we cannot conclude that they were whisked away by any agency. But what happens in Bangladesh is some people are forcefully disappeared,” she told BenarNews.
Bangladeshis are terrified over the prospect of becoming abduction victims, she said.
“I think the Bangladesh state cannot shrug off its responsibility to find out the perpetrators – maybe within the state apparatus or beyond the state – to try them according to the law of the land,” she said.
Mubashar, who gave a short news briefing outside his residence in Dhaka, said he was kidnapped on Nov. 7 after meeting with U.N. officials in Dhaka.
He was riding an Uber taxi when several men stopped the vehicle, saying it was stolen. Mubashar got out of the car and tried to hire another car.
“Suddenly, some people put some ointment in my eyes. It was a burning pain,” he told reporters.
Mubashar said the men grabbed 27,000 taka (U.S. $337) from his wallet and shoved him inside a minibus.
He passed out, he said, and his captors took him to a “solitary room” without any bed. The dark, windowless room had a dirty couch and his captors fed him with stale food that apparently came from restaurants, Mubashar said.
Throughout his abduction about four to five men would gather in a room next to his cell and talk about his fate.
“’Should he be killed or let go?’” Mubashar said he often heard the men say.
On Thursday night, a month and a half after his abduction, Mubashar said he was blindfolded with a thin towel and forced to board a minibus.
The vehicle was on the road for about 90 minutes, he said, until it stopped near the airport in Dhaka, and the men told him he was free to leave.
He quoted his abductors as saying: “You go. You will be killed if you look back.”
Asked to explain why he was seized, Mubashar replied: “The main issue is they abducted me for money.”
But Mubashar said he did not know whether his captors had contacted his parents and asked for ransom.
Tamanna Tasnim, Mubahsar’s sister, told reporters that her brother returned wearing the same shirt he wore the day he vanished.
“Bhaiya, (my brother) was abducted for ransom,” she said, without elaborating.
On Friday, Mubashar, a Dhaka University journalism graduate who started his career as a cub reporter before becoming a university professor, thanked the reporters and friends who helped his family throughout his ordeal.
“If you have not been kidnapped,” he said, “you will never realize how unreal it is.”
Prapti Rahman in Dhaka contributed to this report.