Prison – The best University in this the world

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You may have heard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, California Institute of Technology or Yale University in the United States – Oxford and London School of Economics in the UK and world top 100 best universities; but you may not have yet learnt about the best of the best university in this world, named ‘Prison’. Of course, no one can verify my comment unless she/he has ever visited those universities in their lives. And, thanks to the antisemitic, anti-Israel and corruption-plagued government in Bangladesh, for very kindly keeping me inside Condemned Cell – alongside the condemned prisoners, for long 41 months – out of my 85 months of imprisonment period. Condemned cells do not have any ceiling fan as the condemned prisoners are feared to be committing suicide. Thanks to them for kindly letting me sleep on the floor during the entire period and eat mostly rotten or semi-rotten food. I am especially grateful to the government for not letting me meet my daughter Priyanka Choudhury for almost 4 years and even not been able to see my only grandson Saafir since he was born on February 20, 2015.

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On January 31, 2015, as per directives of the Inspector General of Prison [I have the evidence in hand], authorities of the Kashimpur Central Jail [Part-2] shifted me to Kashimpur High-Security Prison without assigning any reason. From that day I had the experience of staying at any Condemned Cell. Name of the building was Nilgiri and I was locked in cell number 12 on the second floor. My only neighbor was Matiur Rahman Nizami, a top leader of Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh and a condemned convict for committing war crimes during the war of independence of Bangladesh in 1971. I discovered the jail Jannatul Farhad was treating me like a filthy thief [as because I confront radical Islam and support Israel] while was treating a war criminal like Matiur Rahman Nizami as a king. The reason was simple! Jannatul Farhad was on the monthly payroll of Jamaat-e-Islami. In fact, Kashimpur High-Security Prison is one of the safe havens of the Islamists and militants. I was amazed as to how a so-called secular government could allow Farhad in continuing such illegal activities. Then I realized – none of the intelligence agencies in Bangladesh are at all aware of the happenings inside the prisons, including the high-security prison.

After landing in the condemned cell, I was really puzzled as to how the prison authorities can shift a regular prisoner in the condemned cell alongside the condemned convicts? Does the Inspector General of Prison (IGP) know the jail code or he has been very ruthless on me also because I am considered as an ‘enemy of Islam’ and a ‘Zionist spy’! I was even confused as to who had instructed the IGP to place me inside Condemned Cell. Was he dictated by the darlings of Islamists, Iran, and Palestine? Or he was insisted by the preachers and appeasers of radical Islam? Or those corrupt ruling elites and their cohorts? I did not find the reply for many months.

On February 28, 2015, the prison authorities shifted me from the High-Security Prison to Kashimpur Central Jail [Part-1]. Again in the Condemned Cell! My cell number was 22. This is a two-stories building comprising a total 32 rooms [although they call it Cell 30]. All of the inhabitants of that building are notorious criminals – killers, militants, war criminals and members of Bangladesh Riffles [now Border Guard Bangladesh]. To them, I was an alien landing in the club of notorious culprits. They too were surprised as to why a regular prisoner like me was shifted in an isolated room inside the Condemned Cell and I was treated badly just like a condemned convict. Within days of my shifting to the Kashimpur Central Jail [Part-1], on March 23, 2015, I suddenly realized at around 3:20 am in the morning [very odd hours for a prison], the lock of my cell was opened and a prison guard named Awal entered the room with the assignment of suffocating me to death. As I woke up, he fled the room quickly. Next day, I brought this matter to the attention of prison authorities. But, no action was taken for this heinous attempt of assassination. Then I again realized, most possibly the IGP had assigned the prison guard to kill an ‘enemy of Islam’.

I was kept in the same room until my release on July 29, 2018. Keeping a person in the Condemned Cell for 42 months is a total violation of human rights and even constitutional provisions of the country. But who cares about the constitution in a country where courts have already transformed into Kangaroo courts and the entire administration [both civil and military] are gone rogue? Should it happen in any decent society or at least any democratic society, the State would have to pay me millions of dollars as compensation and many of the prison officials [including the IGP] would land in jail.

People who know me are aware that I have serious ophthalmic complications. I need to see the ophthalmologist on a regular basis. But, during this entire period of imprisonment, I was never taken to a physician and was forced wearing the old glasses with old power. That hampered my reading [especially during the night as the bulb in the room was just 15 watt! When a delegation from the International Red Cross visited the Kashimpur Central Jail in 2014, I already brought this matter to their attention. But, nothing changed.

The physician at the Kashimpur Central Jail [Part-1], Mizanur Rahman is an individual heavily inclined towards radical Islam. To him, I was a bad prisoner and he never bothered about my health. In 2017, when my blood pressure suddenly rose to 110~210 to 120~240, the doctor even hated touching my body as to him, I was a Jew! It was no different than Nazi’s behavior with any Holocaust victim. Possibly the doctor too was waiting for me to die in prison due to high blood pressure. But, G-d was always with me, who had saved me from such extreme odds. I never lost my self-confidence and as the repression increased, my determination against radical Islam and anti-Semitism too had reached the peak! I knew nothing can kneel me down as I am a proud Zionist. I hate living like a rat – kneeling down in front of the repressors. Rather I love to live like a lion and even am always ready to embrace any consequence for the noble cause. Nothing can stop me from my mission of spreading the message of peace – a message of interfaith harmony.

During this entire period of imprisonment, my only companions were newspaper [I could buy one newspaper a day] and a writing pad [which I also brought from the prison shop]. Most of the time, I was writing lyrics, as I was not allowed to write a diary. The condemned convicts hardly spoke to me. I was mostly spending 24X7 as a lonely person. No one was there to share my joys or sorrows. From inside my room, I used to look into the corridor, where condemned convicts used to walk. Through the door [made of iron rods], I used to watch people – people that I possibly never met in my life. All of them are in the waiting lounge for the last hour of their lives. They are waiting for death. Still, they forget sorrows and even were engaged in making jokes on the death penalty. Sometimes I thought, they were not only courageous but even heroes as they can smile even months before being executed. Then I had to change my mind thinking – a hardcore criminal would never consider a life as life. They challenge the death. They never think of the gallows – nor about the consequence, they are about to face soon. Some of them even continue chatting with girls from inside the prison through secretly brought cell phones. They promise those girls the world. And those girls never realize, the person talking to them may not even see the next Christmas. Sometimes I got confused, seeing these desperadoes. How in the world, people in the condemn cell can still have romantic desires. Isn’t it strange? Don’t they really ever care about their last day, as it is very near?

Well, this was a terrible experience on my part of being in the condemned cell.

ULFA kingpin Anup Chetia:

Back in 1999, when I was arrested, I was placed at the Old 20 cell in the Dhaka Central Jail. At that time, leader of the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA), Anup Chetia alias Golap Baruah along with his two comrades was in the New 20 Cells, just stone throwing distance from that of mine. He knew my name as I already was operating the first private television channel in Bangladesh, named A-21 TV. The next morning of my arrival there, Chetia very kindly sent me greetings in a chit through another prisoner. After breakfast, I walked out of my cell and met him in the huge open space in between our cells. He was a smiling individual with mystique mustache. His comrades too were very cordial with me. That was the beginning of a deep friendship between us, which continued until I was released in 2001.

In February 2015, as I was shifted to the High-Security Prison named Kashimpur High-Security Prison, I found Anup Chetia again in front of a cell building build for the VIP prisoners. He heard about my arrival and was waiting at the gate to meet me. As I was returning to my cell after completion of the formalities, Chetia with a broad smile embraced me as if he has found a very old comrade right in front of his eyes. His fellow comrades, Lakhi Prasad Goswami and Babul Sharma were also equally delighted seeing me after a very long time. By then I knew, Chetia was already negotiating with the Indian authorities for a ‘repatriation’ from Bangladesh. So I whispered, “Keno michha-michhi jaben? Thaken Bangladeshei. Amra bondhura to achhi!! [why will you go for no reason. Stay in Bangladesh! We friends indeed are there]. He did not say anything but winked, which gave me the impression that he already was too tired of living in the prison or branded as an enemy of India. He was anxiously waiting to return to his motherland – India. In 1999, I saw Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman or Nelson Mandela [Chetia is a great fan of Madiba] in Chetia, but in 2015, I actually found a dubious man in him. I knew the aspiration of independence of the Assamese populace were lifeless.

What I have learnt in the prison?

What not! As I kept my eyes and ears wide open, I had gathered ingredients of at least a few thousand articles and dozens of novels. As I could meet decent individuals who would pass me books of the English novel and other research-oriented books, I also saw criminals of various types. Being in prison for 85 months, actually I have lost the valuable time from my life – missed members of my family; but at the same time, I have learnt a lot which I might not have learnt from any of the great universities in the world.

To be continued …

About Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is our Managing Editor. He is in charge of International affairs and Counter-Militancy reporting. He is the editor of the Bangladesh based English weekly tabloid “Weekly Blitz” – the most influential anti-Jihadist newspaper in Bangladesh. He is awarded PEN USA Freedom to Write Award in 2005; AJC Moral Courage Award in 2006 and Key to the Englewood City, NJ, USA [Highest Honor] in 2007; Monaco Media Award in 2007.

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