A Bangladeshi reporter missing since October contacted relatives and other journalists early Wednesday to tell them he was alive, saying his captors had blindfolded him and taken him for a long drive before leaving him at a gas station.
Utpal Das, a senior correspondent for the online portal Purbo Pashchim, was reported missing on Oct. 10. About two weeks later, his father told local media that his son likely had been abducted.
“I am at a filling station in the Adhuria area,” Utpal Das told BenarNews shortly after his release on Wednesday morning. “On Tuesday night, some people took me on a microbus blindfolded. After three to four hours, they dropped me near the filling station.
“While pushing me out of the microbus, they ordered me ‘don’t look back.’ We will shoot if you look back.”
Utpal is one of about a dozen people in Bangladesh who vanished under mysterious circumstances in 2017, but he is one of few victims of suspected abductions who resurfaced after being found at a public place.
Bangladeshi police had said they were investigating all these cases, but others suspect that some of the abductions may have been so-called enforced disappearances – cases in which people vanish at the hands of local authorities. The government has denied such allegations.
Utpal’s family and coworkers celebrated his release.
“I have got my son back – this is my greatest pleasure. We will not file any case [with police],” Utpal’s father, Chittaranjan Das, told BenarNews
Pir Habibur Rahman, editor of Purbo Pashchim, said he was ready to move on.
“Utpal’s recovery removed a huge block of stone from my chest,” he told BenarNews.
Learning that Utpal was freed, Razu Ahmed, a former general secretary of the Dhaka Reporters’ Unity, a union representing journalists, said he and others headed to greet their colleague at the police station in Bhulta, in central Narayanganj district, where Utpal was found.
“We do not know who whisked him away and who dropped him,” Shahidul Islam, the officer in-charge of the station, told BenarNews.
Ahmed described the reunion.
“Utpal hugged us and started howling. He kept repeating ‘brother I am alive.’ Though Utpal was in good health, he looked devastated,” Ahmed said.
From there, Utpal headed for his ancestral home in Raipura to meet his parents and other family members.
“I have a new lease of life. I am grateful to the journalist leaders, my fellow colleagues and others. I will be grateful all my life. Possibly, I survived because of the voices in the street,” Utpal said.
“Everybody tried. I do not want to blame anyone. I do not want to file any [police] case, nor do I want to look back.”
Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, president of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, called for the abductors to be caught and prosecuted.
“The masked people should be unmasked. The fear will prevail unless police detect the perpetrators responsible for the abduction,” he told BenarNews. “The law enforcing agencies must find them, even if family members are reluctant to file a case.
“This is a big challenge for the law enforcing agencies. This is the responsibility of the state to guarantee the safety of its citizens against those who are trying to challenge the state through spreading fear. This must be fixed,” he said.
Imprisoned in a shed
Utpal said he was standing outside the Star Kebab restaurant in Dhanmondi, a residential area in Dhaka, and talking to a friend on his mobile phone when he was abducted on Oct. 10.
“Before I could understand anything, four to five people came out of a microbus and dragged me inside, blindfolded,” Utpal said.
“The microbus drove for around four hours. Then they confined me at a tin-shed room in a jungle,” he said. “I used to sleep on the floor. I was given food through a narrow space under the door.”
He said his abductors wanted ransom money.
“The abductors did not torture me too much. They used to slap me,” Utpal said. “They did not interrogate. They used to say ‘You have a lot of money. Give us money.’”
“They threatened to kill me if I did not pay them. I could not see any of the masked man other than their eyes,” he said.
In the end, the abductors showed a bit of kindness.
“They returned my mobile phone and 350 taka (U.S. $4.21) they took from me at the time of my abduction,” he said.
Utpal is the second missing person to resurface this month. The first is a Catholic priest who disappeared just days before Pope Francis visited Bangladesh.
Father Walter William Rosario, who was reported missing Nov. 27, was found alive on Dec. 1 at a bus station in the northeastern city of Sylhet, about 420 km (261 miles) or a 10-hour drive from his hometown of Natore in the country’s western region.
Three days later, a retired diplomat disappeared while on his way to the Dhaka airport to meet his daughter, who was returning from Europe. Maroof Zaman, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to Qatar and Vietnam, called home twice and instructed his maid to hand over his computer, phone, camera and other electronic devices to “a few people who will come to my home,” according to his daughter, Samiha Zaman.
At around 8 p.m. the same day, three unarmed men who did not identify themselves, came to the house to search it and take the items. Maroof Zaman’s car was found parked in a street 4.8 km (three miles) from the airport.
During the past decade, as many as 545 people have been victims of enforced disappearances, according to NGO Ain-O-Salish-Kendra. The bodies of 78 people were recovered, while 51 people were found alive. More than 400 are missing.
Security analyst and retired Brig. Gen. Sakhawat Hossain is concerned that so many of the victims do not want to relive their abductions.
“The victims cannot say anything after their release. This is not a good for any of us – the government, security agencies and common people,” he told BenarNews.