Article published in New Age on 28 November 2014
This is the second in a series of articles published in New Age investigating the disappearances of 19 opposition activists that took place in or around Dhaka in a two week period in Nov/Dec 2013. To see the full series, go here
How all it began
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
A series of disappearances of 19 BNP activists and supporters in a two-week period in Dhaka started on 28 November 2013 when five men were picked up from outside Dhaka Central Jail just after 1:00pm.All of the men came from Sutrapur in the Old Dhaka.
New Age has tracked down two direct witnesses of the ‘arrest’ of the five men and they both confirm that it was done by law enforcement personnel, though they could not say for sure which state agency was involved.
Three of the five men taken away were released 11 days later but have been unwilling to speak to New Age.
The two men whose whereabouts remain unknown are Samarat Molla, 27, the organising secretary of Chhatra Dal at Sutrapur and Khaled Hasan Sohel, 27, who was president of the thana’s ward 79.
The incident took place when the five men were waiting outside Dhaka Central Jail in order to see two BNP activists, Shahin and Sanjoy, both from their local area, who had been arrested the previous day suspected of being involved in a bombing case.
It was a Thursday, the last of a three-day opposition siege, and there was very little traffic on the streets.
The five friends had come to the jail gate sometime after midday and had obtained tokens allowing them entry around 12:40. Another friend was also with them at that time, making them a team of six.
When they went into the visiting area, the two jailed men whom the six men had come to see, were not present.
After they left the jail interior, the six friends thought they would try again, and got tokens allowing them entry at about 1:15 pm. One friend, however, went off to say his prayers.
The remaining five friends were waiting outside in a crowd of around 50 people who were also there to meet their relatives or friends inside the prison.
According to a witness, one of the six youths who was standing with the other four friends a few moments earlier, returned from the main road with about seven men.
‘These men in plain clothes came up, asked the five some questions, grabbed their belts and pulled them along to a large silver colour microbus on the main road opposite the token counter, just outside the jail gates,’ he said.
The witness spoke to New Age on condition that his identify would not be revealed.
The witness said one man had walked up to the shop that safeguarded the mobile phones of jail visitors. On his return, the microbus sped off.
A second witness confirmed this sequence of events, and said that the men had walked to the vehicle ‘without any real resistance’.
The witnesses both stated that it was not clear which state agency these men belonged to, but felt sure that they were from a police or law enforcement authority. ‘They were in plain clothes, so I assumed they were Detective Branch men,’ one of the witnesses said.
Kaniz Fatema, the elder sister of Samarat Molla, was waiting for her brother to come home at Sutrapur. She had seen her brother leave the house around 11:00am but did not know where he had gone to.
‘It was not until about midnight that we heard that my brother had been picked up. [The friend who] had gone to prayers, realised on his return to the jail what had happened to his friends, and contacted people in our area. We got a message from the neighbours about what had happened,’ she said.
‘At 10:00am the next day, I went with my uncle to Sutrapur police station, but the police said that they did not know anything about the incident. Then we went to Chawk Bazaar police station which has jurisdiction for the area around the central jail, where we tried to file a general diary, but they did not allow us to do so because they said ‘it was political.’
The family members also went to the Detective Branch office on Minto Road, and the RAB 11 office near Rajdhani supermarket, but all the officials said that they knew nothing about the incident and that no one with her brother’s name was detained in their custody.
Hosni Ara, the mother of Khaled Hasan Sohel, heard about the incident in the same way as Molla’s family.
She and her husband also went around to different police stations in Dhaka, and other law enforcement officers.
‘We even went to Rajshahi, Sylhet and Chittagong district jails to see whether he was detained there,’ she said.
But they also found no information about their son.
The three of the five friends, who were supporters of the BNP’s student wing, but not its office holders, were released on 8 December, having been detained for 11 days.
The families and friends of Sohel and Molla told New Age that the released men met them and said that when they were put inside the vehicles outside the jail gate they were all hooded, and taken to a mini-jail.
The families also said that one of the three released men said that they were asked about the whereabouts of Selim Reza Pintu, the president of Sutrapur Thana, Chhatra Dal. Pintu was subsequently abducted on 11 December.
According to the families, the three friends were told on their release from the ‘jail’ that they should tell people that they had been kidnapped by muggers.
Chawkbazar police officer-in-charge Azizur Rahman said that ‘investigations’ into the ‘missing person GDs’ involving Samarat Molla and Khaled Hasan Sohel were ‘underway but there is no update’.
He said that he had not yet found any evidence that a law enforcement agency was involved in the incident.