Article published in New Age on 4 December 2014
This is the eight 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
Last abduction, taken from the family home
The last in the sequence of pick-ups of opposition party activists in Dhaka over a two week period at the end of 2013 was the disappearance on December 11 of Selim Reza Pintu from his brother’s flat in Pallabi.
Over the last week, New Age has reported on seven separate incidents of abduction involving the disappearance of 18 people, all of them opposition activists or supporters, allegedly undertaken by state agencies.
The abduction of Pintu, the president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s student wing in the Sutrapur part of Old Dhaka, brings to 19 the total number of disappearances in the fortnight.
These incidents took place during a time of intense political protests with the BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami opposition alliance trying to force the government to install an election-time interim government, and the opposition being accused of responsibility for the deaths of members of the public killed in fire-bombing attacks on vehicles.
Pintu, 31, who had been named by the police in at least one case involving political violence, usually lived in Sutrapur in Old Dhaka with his wife, but since about December 6, was living at his brother Aslam Reza Mintu’s third floor flat in Pallabi in Mirpur.
In late November, five of Pintu’s junior political colleagues from Sutrapur had been picked up from outside Dhaka Central Jail. And when 11 days later, three of the five activists were released, they told the families of the other two men who remained in custody that they had all been questioned about Pintu’s whereabouts.
On the morning of December 11, at about 1.00 am, there was a loud knocking on the door of Mintu’s flat. His mother-in-law opened the door and three men dressed in civil clothes entered, carrying torches.
‘They asked me what my name was. I said my name is Mintu. They then started searching the flat and found one door closed. They knocked and my brother Pintu opened it,’ Mintu said
Tarrannum Nuhas, Pintu’s wife, was at the time in the room.
‘Pintu opened the door, and when he said, “Yes, I am Pintu” two men grabbed him and another one entered the room and asked where his mobile phones were,’ she said.
‘When Pintu asked them who they were, they said, “We are from the administration.” We asked them to show their ID cards, but they said, “that won’t be a problem, you will be safe with us,”’ Tarrannum told New Age.
Pintu was wearing a lungi and a tea-shirt at the time, and according to his family, he was not given any time to change his clothes – not even to put shoes on.
‘The men stayed just a few minutes in the flat,’ Pintu’s wife said.
The Chhatra Dal activist was dragged down the stairs, with his brother following him.
‘There were more men outside the building, and at least one had a gun. They pushed Pintu into a silver coloured microbus. I was repeatedly asking where they were taking my brother. One person finally said, “nothing will happen to him,”’ Pintu’s brother stated.
There were a total of five adults in the flat when the men entered.
‘I think the men who took my brother were from the administration,’ Mintu said. ‘Their movement was very different from terrorists or criminals. They did not have any weapons to assert their authority. Moreover, the way in which they only took the mobile phones would also suggest they were not criminals.’
New Age has also identified one independent witness, a pedestrian, who also thought the men were from a state agency. ‘I saw men waiting in front of the doorway, and enter the building. They definitely looked as though they were law enforcement men,’ this person said, speaking to New Age on condition of anonymity.
The next morning Mintu went to Pallabi police station. ‘I explained who my brother was and how he was picked up. The duty officer then said, “Wait a few days. Sometimes the detective branch takes people and they are returned shortly afterwards.”’
Rehana Banu Munni, Pintu’s sister, who was not present at the time of the abduction, said she went to the detective branch office many times with a photo of her brother.
‘I met additional deputy commissioner Sanwar Hossain, and he said, “It is ok, we will search for him, please wait some time”. We also went to RAB and met Colonel Ziaul Ahsan, additional director general and he just said, “OK, we will search for him.”’
‘I don’t know why Pintu was taken,’ Munni said. ‘I just pray to every authority in government, and I ask them, ‘Is doing politics a crime?’. If my brother did any crime then investigate it and then he can be punished.
‘But he was just taken because of his BNP politics. His only crime was to be involved in BNP Chhatara Dal,’ she said.
The whereabouts of Selim Reza Pintu remains unknown.
Monirul Islam, the joint commissioner of the Detective Branch denied any involvement in this incident. ‘We don’t have any knowledge about the disappearance of these people.’ RAB also denies any involvement.
The former Pallabi police station sub-inspector Asaduzzaman, who inquired into the missing person GD filed by the family told New Age that he ‘found nothing’ during the investigation.