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Feature on Enforced Disappearances | Ananta Yusuf | New Age

The last time Aminul Islam’s wife talked to him was on phone on October 31, last year, moments before he disappeared. Aminul Islam and his friend Anisur Rahman came for a business trip in Dhaka from Jessore on October 29, last year. They rented a room at Hotel New York in Topkahna road and two days later they were reported missing. 
Aminul’s brother Shagor Shekh left for Dhaka soon after Aminul became incommunicado. ‘My brother’s sudden disappearance was a shock for us. No one could find any allegation or case against him and we carry a good reputation in Jessore.’ His disappearance is still a mystery for the family.
On the night of disappearance Aminul talked with his wife and informed her about his health and business deal. Shagor says, ‘Bhabi talked to him once around 9:30pm but when she phoned him again at 11:30pm he could not be reached.’ Since then his phone remained switch off. 
Shagor checked every corner of the city including the hotel but he did not find his brother. The hotel authority said, they saw Aminul with his friend last on October 31 at around 11:00pm and after that they didn’t came back to the hotel. Aminul’s car was parked in the garage but he was missing. 
A New York Hotel staff confirms Xtra that he saw Aminul along with his friend on the night of disappearance. Aminul gave him the key and said he will return within one hour but he did not return. 
After searching every possible corner, Shagor filed a general diary and later on, a case at Shahbag police station. Sub Inspector (SI) Muhammed Humayun, investigating officer with the help of the victim’s family, checked the IMEI number and the call list of Aminul. 
During the investigation, Humayun found that after the abduction Aminul’s friend Anisur Rahman’s mobile phone was switched on for a while with a different SIM card at around 1:45am. A message also entered the phone on that number. 
Police started investigating the case by tracking the number. Humayun confirms Xtra that they tried tracing the user through Anisur Rahman’s mobile phone IMEI and interestingly found that the mobile phone had become alive at different times in November. 
Police found that the two numbers frequently dialed from the phone belonged to the user’s previous wife Jahnara Khan Tonni and a female friend Tahsin Fatima. 
Fatima informed police that the user’s name is Ashraf and he is a member of Bangladesh Army, but police was not sure about his designation. Police plotted a trap using Fatima to find the user of the phone.
Ashraf came to see Fatima in front of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence. It turned out that Ashraf was a member of the RAB intelligence. Once he realised that he was trapped, he ran into the DGFI office and since then he too remained untraceable.
‘We tried our best but were not able to make headway,’ says SI Humayun. The case meanwhile has moved to the Criminal Investigation Department. 
Shagor alleged that when police found the accused worked for the RAB intelligence, they started drifting from the case and later handed it over to the Detective Branch.
When the DB also could not make any progress with the investigation, ‘We went to Ain o Salish Kendra for help. From them we come to know about Ashraf in detail, and after getting his marriage registration and national ID card we became certain that he is an armed force soldier and was working for RAB intelligence.’
‘We were shocked,’ says Shagor adding, relatives advised them to stop looking for Aminul, ‘but still we are trying to get him back dead or alive.’
SI Akther of CID denied divulging any information until they came to any conclusion with the investigation. 
Initially family members thought that they disappeared because of business related clashes, so they filed police case. The police also were sincerely investigating until they unearthed clues that implicate a law enforcement agency with Aminul’s disappearance. The investigators started cutting slack on their investigation.
Shagor tells Xtra that the police cut short its speed once they identified links to a RAB intelligence personnel in the disappearance of Aminul. ‘The police told us they were closing in on one of the perpetrators, but when they found that the accused was working for RAB intelligence, their progression with the investigation slowed down.’    
Nur Khan, director (investigation) of Ain o Salish Kendra, says that when Shagor came to them for help, it was not a very easy task to ascertain whether RAB was really linked with the disappearance or not. He says, ‘We carefully went through the police reports and findings and from their report we received clues like different phone numbers of family members and friends. After interviewing the family members and from phone records and IMEI number, we became certain that the user works for RAB intelligence at DGFI head quarter.’
Nur believes if Ashraf was brought to book and questioned then the whole picture of this disappearance case will unfold. 

According to ASK, only this year, 41 people were reportedly killed and 44 disappeared in the country. In most cases, the family alleged that the law enforcement agency abducted them and later killed. 
The present government promised in its election manifesto that they will bring down the number of extrajudicial killings. According to Odhikar, a human rights organisation, extra judicial killing was at 184 in 2007, 149 in 2008, 154 in 2009, 127 in 2010 and 84 in 2011. Although the number of killing has sharply decreased but enforced disappearance is still at large.  
Five youths from Aminbazar went missing between October 5 and 23.  Families of the missing youths alleged that they were picked up by some men from Gabtali. Just a few months earlier on June 13, Mohammad Nazrul Islam from Kamarkhand upazila of Sirajganj went missing at around 5:30 pm. According to an eyewitness, he was allegedly arrested and then disappeared by RAB-12 members.

Five youths went missing from Aminbazar and Gabtali in October, New Age reported on November 8. The general diary filed at the Darussalam police station on October 29 mentioned Mohammad Salim, Saiful Islam, Monir Hossain, Abdus Sattar, and Saiful Islam were missing.
The family alleged they were abducted by the men in plainclothes. 
On October 5, Saiful Islam was picked up by a group of plainclothesmen from Begunbari. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested Saiful Islam along with 14 other locals in connection with the killing of six students in Aminbazar on April 18, 2011.
Saiful’s wife Ruma Begum informs Xtra that her husband was released on bail after he passed three months in jail as the law enforcement agencies was not sure he was the right Saiful Islam. 
Saiful’s friend, Abdul Rashid from Begunbari tells Xtra that he was with him just before Saiful disappeared. He tells Xtra, ‘His wife called me and asked about him. I looked everywhere for him but could not find him. A tea stall owner told me he was moved in a white microbus.’
The commanding officer of RAB-1, Lieutenant Colonel Abdullah Ibn Zaid told New Age that they received complaints from the families and were looking into the matter.

Fact finding report of Odhikar states that members of Rab-12 arrested one Mohammad Nazrul Islam on June 13 from Kamarkhand upazila of Shirajganj. The family members never learned his whereabouts since he was picked up.
According to an eyewitness, on that day when RAB arrested him, Nazrul Islam was at the rail-crossing near his house. Then took him to the RAB-12 office in a motorcycle and confined him there.  Since then he has been missing.
The plainclothesmen got into an altercation with Nazrul and when locals appeared, two of the men identified themselves as members of RAB and showed their badges. The witness remembers reading one of the names, SI Kamruzzaman.
Nazrul Islam’s mother Zohura Begum says that Nazrul was taken to the office of RAB-12 situated inside Sirajganj Quowmi Jute Mill. A shop owner near the mill saw Nazrul in front of the RAB office and informed the family members. She sent one of their relatives Abul Kashem to the RAB-12 office to look for Nazrul. RAB members denied of having Nazrul.
Captain Mehedi told Odhikar that their investigation was going on since Nazrul was missing. He said that the allegation made by Nazrul’s family about his arrest by RAB was false. Moreover, there was no one called SI Kamruzzaman in RAB-12 office, he said. 
After repeated attempts to reach RAB for an explanation its spokesperson Captain M Sohail was not in the position to comment.  

Anjuman Mufidul Islam, an organisation taking responsibility for unclaimed dead body and burial service says that in the last five years, they have buried 8,000 unclaimed dead bodies only in Dhaka. Most of the bodies were unidentified since they were decomposed and mutilated.

Human rights activists and organisations claim, since 2004 after Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was formed, extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearance escalated immensely. Despite repeated notifications by the governmental and non-governmental organisations, none of the governments made efforts at investigating into the incidents or prosecuting the perpetrators.
Nur believes the problem lies in the system. Since the military regime of ’70s and ’80s, law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh have been allegedly involved in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killing. After democracy was restored in the ’90s, the trend reportedly reduced until it was revived once again with the inception of RAB, says Nur. 
Not only that enforced disappearance has become the new terror in the country, the reluctance at investigating the incidents by law enforcement agencies have become a barrier to dig up the truth.

February 4, 2013