Opposition Spokesman Vanishes Amid Unrest in Bangladesh

By Kamran Reza Chowdhury

2015-03-19
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150319_BD_DISAPPEARED_620 Images of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leader Khaleda Zia and her two sons hang outside BNP offices in Dhaka, Feb. 26, 2015
AFP

Weeks after the murder of blogger Avijit Roy in Dhaka, another ominous incident has gripped Bangladesh: the disappearance of former state minister and leading opposition figure Salahuddin Ahmed.

Ahmed, joint secretary-general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), had been in hiding since early January, when the government moved to block protests marking the one-year anniversary of a controversial election that kept the ruling Awami League in power.

To evade arrest, he had been issuing statements on behalf of the party from undisclosed locations.

Then, on March 10, he vanished completely, according to his relatives.

Plainclothes police picked him up from a house in Uttara model town in the north of Dhaka, according to his wife, Hasina Ahmed. On March 12, she filed a petition with the High Court asking the government to trace him. The court has scheduled its next hearing into the case for April 8.

Police rejected the allegations in separate court filings. Attorney General Mahbube Alam told reporters the court could not order the police to produce Ahmed, as he was not in their custody.

On Thursday, Hasina Ahmed went to the Prime Minister’s Office to seek an appointment, according to bdnews24.

“I have come to request the prime minister to take steps to find my husband. She’s also a mother, a wife, like me, and she will understand my pain,” she later told reporters.

The night of March 10

According to her, on the night of March 10, Detective Branch police in six vehicles went to the house where her husband was staying, owned by a friend who was out of the country at the time.

They showed a guard at the house identity cards stating that they were members of the Detective Branch, she alleged. Hasina Ahmed was not there at the time.

Apparently backing her account, a security guard in the neighborhood told the Prothom Alo newspaper that men in law enforcement vehicles stopped to ask him how to find the street where Ahmed was staying.

“Detecting them as law enforcers, I went to the vehicles and showed them the road,” he told the paper.

‘Anyone can be a victim’

A string of unsolved crimes is further deteriorating the security situation in Bangladesh, where political unrest has claimed more than 100 lives in 2015.

“This is an ominous sign for the country. People now have accepted that there is no security in Bangladesh,” Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, a retired professor of English literature at Dhaka University, told BenarNews, pointing to several unsolved crimes like Ahmed’s disappearance and the murder of Avijit Roy.

“Anyone can be a victim in such situation. It is the responsibility of the state to ensure the security of every citizen. If such a sense of insecurity goes on, the people will get alienated from the state, inviting non-state factors such as militancy and hooliganism,” said Chowdhury.

Nurul Huda, a former inspector general of police, told BenarNews that a failure to find Ahmed would definitely erode people’s confidence in the police force.

“The police and other law enforcing agencies have placed separate reports to the High Court denying arresting Salahuddin Ahmed. So, they have to prove that they have not picked him up, to restore people’s trust,” said Huda.

Awami League blames BNP


Awami League officials, meanwhile, have accused the BNP of orchestrating the disappearance.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said police were looking for Ahmed and would arrest him if they found him.

“Khaleda Zia will have to answer about his whereabouts,” she said, according to bdnews24.

Suranjit Sengupta, a senior leader of the Awami League, called Ahmed’s disappearance “dangerous” for the country.

“The BNP should discontinue the politics from hideouts, as such practices result in the politics of killing. The very basis of democracy is sorting out all differences through discussion across the table,” he told BenarNews.

Salahuddin Ahmed had gone into hiding “by his own choice,” and as a result “anyone” could abduct him, he said.

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