Forced Disappeara​nce and Murders in Bangladesh

The ruling Bangladesh Awami League has evidently failed in addressing series of national issues, while it is now continuing state-patronized terror on the civilians and political opponents, thus pushing the nation and its democracy towards a huge black hole. No one dares to even assess the possible future of the democracy of Bangladesh, while many of the political pundits are predicting sudden upsurge of the masses, while some are even saying that June 22, which is the last deadline set by the opposition leader may become a very remarkable day in the history of Bangladeshi politics. People are already annoyed with the ruling party, with 12-14 hour load-shedding in the capital city itself, while the situation is even worst in the district towns and of course the situation in the rural areas are simply horrible!

Instead of resolving this extremely important national issue, the ruling elites and their sycophants are busy in cashing millions of dollars virtually by looting national wealth in the name of Quick Rental Power Station. By now, there is clear perception amongst the people that the ruling party and some of the top-graded looters within have invented the Quick Rental Power Station theory for looting national wealth in a free-styled way. Sensing future consequences of such decision, the ruling party has already passed an Indemnity Bills in the National Parliament, with the ulterior intention of stopping any possible investigation or legal actions against them for such free-styled looting of public money in the name of Quick Rental Power Station.

Volatile law and order situation

The law and order situation in Bangladesh has already crossed all previous records and it has even reached into its peak. The matter became crystal clear to everyone at home and abroad when Saudi diplomat Khalaf bin Mohammed Salem al-Ali was mysteriously murdered at the diplomatic enclave in the capital city of Dhaka, while there is no sign of any progress into the so-called investigation. Critics are already saying that the ruling party will try its best in somehow hiding the entire issue as they did with the case of murder of the journo couple Sagar and Runi, who were brutally slaughtered at their residence in Dhaka. Following the murder of journalist Sagar and Runi, the home minister Sahara Khatun set 48-hour deadline for the law enforcing agencies in identifying the culprits. But, by now hundreds of hours have already crossed, and the supreme judiciary of the country finally had to come forward in issuing a rule upon the government to shift the investigation into the Sagar-Runi murder with Rapid Action Battalion as the Detective Branch had already failed. Confronting the remarks of the apex judiciary, Bangladeshi home minister Sahara Khatun said, “I don’t think police have failed. Rather, they have made remarkable progress in the investigation.”

When the reporters told her (the home minister) that police have admitted their failure to the court, she noted, “I said what I wanted to say.”

Sagar Sarowar, news editor at private TV station Maasranga, and his wife Meherun Runi, a senior reporter at another TV channel ATN Bangla, were killed in the wee hours on February 11, 2012 at their rented apartment in the capital’s West Rajabazar. During the hearing of a rule, the High Court on April 18, 2012 directed the inspector general of police to instantly comply with the order and shift the investigation into the murder case to Rapid Action Battalion. The Detective Branch of police has failed to unearth anything fruitful in the case till date and this has disappointed everybody, said the court.

Deputy Commissioner of DB Monirul Islam and its Inspector Rabiul Alam told the court that detectives tried their best to find out the motive of the homicide and arrest the killer(s).

It may be mentioned here that the Detective Branch(DB), including its deputy commission Monirul Islam on a number of times claimed to the media that they had made remarkable progress in the investigation and nabbing of the culprit(s) were only question of time. Same statements were made by the home minister, while the Prime Minister herself made numerous pledges to the journalist community in Bangladesh of unearthing the mystery behind the murder of journalist-couple Sagar and Runi.

There had been strong rumor following murder of Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi that the brother of an owner of a private television channel was behind the crime and influential figures in the government were actively trying to save the murderer as well as the masterminds for reason unknown. There is strong perception that the murder of Sagar Sarwar and Meherun Runi were result of their investigative reports on the huge corruption centering country’s energy sector.

Enforced disappearance, secret killing and silent extortion

Organizing secretary of Bangladesh Nationalist Party(BNP), M Ilias Ali went missing from 17th April night, thus worsening the current political persecution and repression continued by the ruling party and the rogue state machinery. Local police found the vehicle of M Ilias Ali abandoned near a park at city’s posh Banani area, while there was no trace of politician and his driver. This latest case of disappearance of M Ilias Ali is among many such disappearances of political opponents of ruling Bangladesh Awami League. The disappearance takes place at such a crucial time when the rulers and their investigators failed to identify the reason behind murder of Saudi diplomat Khalaf bin Mohammed Salem-al Ali, who was murdered in city’s posh diplomatic enclave during dark hours. The latest case of disappearance of BNP leader M Ilias Ali has not only ringed the alarm in Bangladeshi society, it also has put every citizen of the country into tremendous trauma of insecurity of life. Many believe the ruling party has created a list of at least 100 people, amongst who are politicians, media personnel and members of the civil society, with the agenda of abduction and secret murders. It is greatly feared that M Ilias Ali and his driver might have already been eliminated inside one of the safe shelters and their dead bodies might have been secretly dumped in any of the graveyards or deep forests in Bangladesh.

M Ilias Ali became an object of headache for the ruling party leaders, especially because of his massive political drives in the eastern part of Bangladesh in creating public opinion against the ruling party, due to its series of failures as well as shameless high-profile corruption. His name particularly came prominently into the attention of the ruling party elites when he showed political zeal in organizing a historic public meeting of opposition leader Khaleda Zia at Sylhet divisional headquarters, which is considered to be the biggest public meeting in that part of the country since independence of Bangladesh. M Ilian Ali was also continuing political activities in sharpening the anti-government movement of the opposition, targeting the June 22 ultimatum of Khaleda Zia, which is also seen as a significant timeline, where the current government may face the biggest ever challenge of continuing in power. It is hinted that M Ilias Ali was in favor of putting seize of roads in the capital city on June 22, when millions of people are expected to come from different parts of the country to attend the planned huge public meeting of Khaleda Zia. Bangladesh Nationalist Party has decided to ask their supporters and workers to put seize on each and every place, where they would be stopped either by the members of the law enforcing agencies or the armed cadres of the ruling party.

The case of disappearance of M Ilias Ali has not only generated fear in the minds of the people but also foreign diplomats as well as foreign investors in Bangladesh are feeling totally unsafe, while a large number of foreign investors reportedly are actively thinking of wrapping-up their investments from Bangladesh. Seeking anonymity, a foreign investor said, “the ruling party has turned Bangladesh into a land of fear and death and why shall we risk our lives by staying in this country? The government has totally failed in unearthing the murder mystery of the Saudi diplomat, which gives clear sign that no such secret killings will ever be detected by the state-machinery for anticipatable reasons.”

Meanwhile a local human rights group has released a report stating, during the past 40 months of the rule of Bangladesh Awami League, 58 people have already disappeared from various parts of the country, while the numbers of rape, murder, abduction, extortion and persecution of religious minorities have reached to an alarming level.

Following the mysterious disappearance of prominent leader of the opposition party and former Member of Parliament, M Ilias Ali, the Prime Minister, the home minister, the state minister(junior minister) for home affairs and various law enforcing agencies are continuing to give contradictory statements. In a public meeting, the Prime Minister claimed that M Ilias Ali went into hiding at the instruction of the leader of the opposition, while the home minister said law enforcing agencies were actively trying to find him.

Commenting on the enforced disappearance of Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s organizing secretary M Ilias Ali, leading English language daily The New Age in its editorial comment wrote: “It is indeed alarming that the organising secretary of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, M Elias Ali, has gone missing since midnight past Tuesday. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Thursday, the police claimed that they had found his car abandoned in front of a municipal park near his Banani residence. His disappearance comes at a time when the number of enforced disappearances marked a sharp increase in recent times. According to the rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra, as of Thursday, there have been at least 22 reported incidents of enforced disappearances this year; in most of the cases, friends and families of the missing people claimed that they had gone missing since being picked up members of one law enforcement agency or the other. Meanwhile, another human rights organisation, Odhikar, reports that at least 30 people went missing in 2010 and 2011 after being picked up by the Rapid Action Battalion, the police and its detective branch, and other law enforcement agencies. Worse still, most of the people missing belong to the opposition political camp and many of them were found dead days after they had gone missing.

“Enforced disappearances of opposition leaders and activists, and/or dissident voices in society used to be a common phenomenon such Latin American countries as Argentina and Chile when they were under dictatorial rule, in Sri Lanka during the secessionist strife launched by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and even Bangladesh during the first post-independence government. While the rest of countries mentioned above seem to have come out of the vice grips of the vicious phenomenon, Bangladesh seems to be slipping back into it. Disturbingly still, the Awami League-Jatiya Party government has thus far remained largely silent about the increasing number of enforced disappearance despite allegations of law enforcement agencies’ involvement in most of these incidents. Given its evident unwillingness, and even endorsement, of extrajudicial killing by members of the Rapid Action Battalion and other law enforcement agencies, the government even runs the risk of being suspected as complicit in such enforced disappearances.

Already, such international human rights organisations as the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances on submitted a letter to Bangladesh’s permanent representative to the United Nations on June 14, 2011 urging the government to take immediate steps to stop enforced disappearances allegedly after being picked up by the law enforcement agencies. Yet, enforced disappearances have not quite let up, inducing a pervasive sense of insecurity and uncertainty across society.

Moreover, when an international organisation raises the issue, it portrays Bangladesh to the international community as an unsafe place to be and thus hurts its investment potential. Overall, the increasing incidence of enforced disappearances poses serious ramifications on social, political and economic fronts besides indicating an abysmal state of law enforcement and, most importantly, the rule of law.

Given the circumstances Elias’s disappearance has taken place in, the accusing finger is bound to be pointed at the incumbents, as it has. Frighteningly still, the state of Bangladesh seems to be increasingly viewed at home, and abroad too, as party to such heinous acts. Hence, the incumbents need to act and act now, not only to ascertain the whereabouts of the BNP leader but also resolve other cases of similar disappearances.”

Human Rights watchdog Ain-O-Shalish Kendra(ASK) said, “Enforced disappearances of political leaders have increased alarmingly in three months and a half. A significant number of the 22 people who went missing in 2012 were political leaders and such disappearance, which emerged as a trend, is alarming compared with such incidents at any point of time in the past.”

It said fifty-one people fell victim to enforced disappearance or secret killing in 2011.

Corruption and joke with the citizen

Ruling party in Bangladesh is evidently caught into their own lies following the drama centering the 7 million Taka bribe money, which put minister Suranjit Sen Gupta into media’s lime light, while the drama centering the money as well as his subsequent resignation from the cabinet and bouncing back to the seat of the minister in less than 24 hours, has certainly generated serious curiosity in the minds of the people about the desperate corruption, which is continuing in full swing inside the ruling party Lords and members of the Special Family.

Meanwhile, in another dramatic bid, Omar Faruq Talukder, the sacked Assistant Personal Secretary(APS) of ex-railway minister Suranjit Sengupta came out of hidding and gave contradictory statements over the money found in his microbus at the Pilkhana BGB headquarters in Dhaka on April 9 2012.

In a written statement to the Anti-Corruption Commission(ACC) on April 18, he claimed that of TK 7 million found in his microbus, he had earned TK 4.5 million from legal practice and received the rest from his expatriate brother-in-law.

However, on April 10, Faruq told a local news agency that the Border Guard Bangladesh men seized TK 2.5 million to 3 million from the microbus and he owned that money. The Anti Corruption Commission team probing the TK 7 million scandals rejected Faruq’s claim about the source of the money and asked him to appear before it in 10 days with evidence for the claim. It is rumored that prior to appearing before the Anti Corruption Commission, Omar Faruk made phone calls to his ex boss(Suranjit Sen Gupta) and spoke to him for almost an hour.

It may be mentioned here that, Border Guard Bangladesh(BGB) personnel detained Faruq, his driver Ali Azam Khan, Bangladesh Railway General Manager(East) Yusuf Ali Mridha, and its Dhaka Division Security Commandant Enamul Haque with TK 7 million after the driver drove the APS’ microbus into the BGB headquarters on April 9 night. Suranjit Sen Gupta made frantic bids in saving his APS and even made false comments to Bangladeshi media stating his APS and two senior officials of Bangladesh Railway were being kidnapped by their driver and forcefully taken inside the headquarters of the BGB. When Suranjit sensed that his lies won’t be accepted by Bangladesh media, he changed his statements thus sacking his APS and suspended the two railway officials before quitting as railway minister on April 15 over the scandal.

On April 18, 2012, Faruq, Mridha and Enamul appeared before the ACC investigators and gave statements separately. On condition of anonymity, two ACC officials a local newspaper that Faruq claimed that the seized TK 7 million belonged to him, while Mridha and Enamul said they didn’t have any knowledge of the money. But there was no confusion about their destination as three of them told ACC that they were en-route to Suranjit Sengupta’s Jhigatola residence.

Anti Corruption Commission investigators expressed frustration over the mysterious disappearance of the microbus driver, Ali Azam. He has been missing since the incident.

“We have doubts whether the driver would appear before us. We are yet to have any trace of him. We decided to send a letter to his village address,” said one of the investigators.

Another ACC committee is probing the source of TK 50 million of Suranjit’s son Soumen Sengupta with which he recently obtained an Interconnection Exchange (ICEx) license from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

The ACC sent letters to the BTRC and the telecommunications ministry asking for the facts about Soumen’s obtaining the ICEx license. The ACC is also looking into the income sources of Soumen, his wealth and that of his family members.

Meanwhile, Suranjit Sengupta’s changing statements with the unfolding of the drama over the April 9 Railwaygate Scandal have raised questions about the credibility of the veteran politician. It all began with the midnight recovery of TK 7 million from the microbus of his close aide after the driver reportedly pulled over inside the Pilkhana BGB headquarters in the capital and its driver hollered that there was stash of bribe money in the vehicle.

BGB personnel on guard found TK 7 million in the car. The money had allegedly been collected as bribe from railway job seekers. At first Suranjit strongly defended his aides – Assistant Private Secretary(APS) Omar Faruq Talukder, Railway General Manager (East) Yusuf Ali Mridha and Dhaka Division Security Commandant Enamul Huq who were in the car that night. He then dismissed his possible links to the scandal terming it conspiracy against him and promised to quit if needed, took a turnaround from the stance on the very next day; sacked his APS and suspended two other aides; and finally stepped down from his office on April 16.

On April 10, the day after the incident, Suranjit told the media that it is not illegal to carry money in the country, adding that he heard that the driver was trying to rob the money from his APS.

He also said he has a specific working hour, and it is not his responsibility to keep track of his aides after that hour.

Moving away from this stance, the former minister on the very next day told journalists at the Jatiya Sangshad Bhaban that he had asked Faruq and Yousuf not to come to work until further notice.

Saying that the incident was unwarranted and has happened before in the country, Suranjit had said that the incident had created problems for him and he would face it.

Analysts say, by bringing Suranjit Sen Gupta back to the cabinet in less than 24 hours of his stepping off from the post accepting his responsibility in the TK. 7 million bribe scandals, the ruling has categorically committed the worst-ever political blunder and proved in public that corruption and corrupts enjoy softer attitude from the ruling party.

Most importantly, the driver of the vehicle, Ali Azam is missing since the night of recovery of such large amount of bribe money. It is anticipated that either Ali Azam has also become a victim of forced disappearance by ruling party agents, or he might have been killed by underworld network of Suranjit Sen Gupta or his APS Omar Faruk. It is important to mention here that, Omar Faruq, prior to joining as the APS of the ousted railway minister was serving as an waiter at a small canteen at Dhaka’s Kawranbazar area. On completion of his Masters degree, Faruq joined the canteen in 2003 at TK 3000 monthly salary. He was continuing in that job till he was appointed as the APS of Suranjit Sen Gupta in 2009. As soon as he became the APS of Suranjit, Omar Faruq gradually started becoming a wealthy man, as he was one of the most trusted staffs of Suranjit in handling classified and secret issues. Hailing from a poor family background, Omar Faruq found the job of the APS as the Aladin’s Magic Lamp in making money in the most unimaginable manner.

What will happen to Suranjit Sen Gupta or his son Soumen Sengupta, APS Omar Faruq or the Bangladesh Railway General Manager (East) Yusuf Ali Mridha, and its Dhaka Division Security Commandant Enamul Haque is certainly a matter of second priority. The first point here is to know the whereabouts of the driver Ali Azam. If he is a victim of the forced disappearance of the ruling party or if he is killed by the agents of Suranjit or Faruq or Mridha, the matter certainly needs to be brought into book. Recently Omar Faruq made a claim that Ali Azam has fled to India. This very statement of Omar Faruq is suspicious enough. No one asked him as to how he could know that Ali Azam fled to India when Ali Azam’s family members are in total dark about his whereabouts? Why Suranjit or Faruq or Mridha and Enamul or each of them are not squeezed by the intelligence agencies in knowing the whereabouts of fate of the poor driver Ali Azam who took the maximum risk in exposing this huge corruption scandal?

No government in the world sustained after waging war against the civilians. It has been evidently proved everywhere in the world that every such regime, which adopts the notorious policy of repressing people of continuing persecution on the political opponents are ultimately ousted through mass movements. The ruling party in Bangladesh should surely remember this point. At the same time, the frequency of forced disappearance has already reached the worst ever level of highest concern, where not only the citizen of the country but even the foreigners and the diplomats are no more safe.

Bangladesh Awami League and its nefarious wings have turned the country into Valley of Terror and Land of Death and Fear. No one is safe here anymore. This is time when not only the members of the civil society but also the international community should put focus on this matter. International community should give strong signal to the ruling Bangladesh Awami League in immediately stopping all such notoriety and persecution. This is high time, when everyone should act forthwith!

ATN BanglaBangladeshBangladesh Awami LeagueBangladesh Nationalist PartyBangladeshi politicsDhakaEnamul HaqueKhalaf bin Mohammed Salem-al AliKhaleda ZiaLiberation Tigers of Tamil EelamLTTEM Ilias AliMonirul IslamOdhikarOmar FaruqOmar Faruq TalukderQuick Rental Power StationRapid Action BattalionSagar and RuniSagar RuniSagar SarowarSahara KhatunSaudi diplomat Khalaf bin Mohammed Salem-al AliSuranjit SenguptaThe New AgeYusuf Ali Mridha