Window maker Amir Hossain has been loitering for days outside the Bangladeshi police detective branch (DB) office in Dhaka, hoping to find out what happened to his brother who was taken into custody by officers on Oct. 8, he said.
His 22-year-old brother Arif was last seen being taken away in the Saat Rawza section of Dhaka on Oct. 8, but Hossain said police had not given him any answers on his sibling’s whereabouts. His brother is among dozens of Bangladeshis who are reported to have gone missing this year and are unaccounted for after allegedly being seen in the custody of law enforcers.
“I do not know what happened to him. We do not know what crime he has committed,” Hossain told BenarNews tearfully. “If he committed a crime, he should be sent to the court.”
Bangladesh is notorious for so-called enforced disappearances, cases in which people allegedly vanish at the hands of police or members of other security services and often are never seen again.
Victims of such disappearances come from all walks of life, but the political opposition accuses the ruling Awami League party of targeting many of its activists and officials through enforced disappearances, allegations which government representatives strongly deny.
Now, a leading Bangladeshi human rights organization, Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), said the number of enforced disappearances has grown nationwide this year.
At least 70 people vanished through enforced disappearances between January and July 2016, compared with 55 who disappeared in this way throughout 2015, according to data compiled by ASK.
“We have investigated many cases of disappearance and found these to be true. Disappearance is in no way accepted in any civilized society. It must stop immediately,” ASK Executive Director Nur Khan told BenarNews.
‘From all walks’
Khandaker Mahbub Hossain, an opposition-backed lawyer who has defended Bangladeshi war criminals, said the missing people include sons of three prominent opposition leaders who were convicted over crimes committed during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan. Two of these leaders, Mir Qasem Ali and Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury, were executed for war crimes.
“Some plainclothesmen go to the houses or obstruct the vehicles, and whisk away people without any warrant order or even without showing their identity cards. When families contact them, the police or RAB [Rapid Action Battalion] simply say ‘we have not arrested them,’” the lawyer told BenarNews.
“You see people from all walks, from a Supreme Court barrister to day laborers, who are the victims of forced disappearance,” he said.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the main opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP), alleged that “hundreds of our leaders and activists have been missing for months and even years” since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took office in 2009.
“The Awami League has been pursuing the policy of abduction of [members of] the opposition to establish an authoritarian rule in the country,” Alamgir told BenarNews.
Police and government officials flatly reject such allegations.
“We do not believe in abducting anyone. Our law enforcers have been discharging their duties sincerely. The allegation of pursuing a policy of ‘forced disappearance’ is completely baseless,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told BenarNews
He was responding to the BNP’s allegation that law enforcers had kidnapped Abdullahil Amaan Azmi, Mir Ahmed Qasem Arman, and Hummam Quader Chowdhury, the three sons of the aforementioned high-profile war criminals.
“In many instances, we have investigated the cases of ‘forced disappearance’ and detected that they willingly went into hiding to embarrass the government internationally,” the home minister added.
And, according to Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Masudur Rahman, “criminal groups could have abducted” Azmi, Arman and Chowdhury.
“In the past, we have arrested criminals impersonating police and DB personnel,” he told BenarNews.
Referring to some two dozen people, including Amir Hossain, who were hanging around the DB office this week, Rahman added, “We do not know why these people have been waiting here.”
“We have not unlawfully detained anyone. If we detain anyone, we produce them before the court in accordance with the law,” Rahman told BenarNews.
But as Kazi Rezaul Hoque, chairman of the autonomous National Human Rights Commission, sees it, law enforcement officials and authorities should not shrug off their responsibility to find out what happened to all those missing people.
“Even if criminals abducted the people, the law enforcers must find them out because they are there to protect the citizens,” Hoque told BenarNews.