Article published in New Age on 30 November 2014
This is the forth 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------------------------------------------------------------
They picked up 6 at Bashundhara and drove off
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
On the evening of 4 December 2013, Sajedul Islam Sumon, 36, the general secretary of BNP ward 38 in Shahinbagh thana, was standing by the side of a stony pathway next to an under-construction building of Block-I in Bashundhara residential area in Dhaka, chatting with his cousin, Zahidul Islam Tanvir, 33.
Four friends, Mazharul Islam Russel, 26, Asaduzzaman Rana, 27, Al Amin, 26, and Abdul Quader Bhuiyan Masum, 22, all of them involved with BNP’ student wing, had just met with these two cousins, and were walking back along Road-4 to the main road in Block-I.
All of a sudden, three vehicles arrived, picked up the four men putting them into one of the vehicles and drove back to come to a stop beside Tanvir and Sumon.
‘One of the cars was a black pickup, the ones usually used by RAB, and the two others were white Hiace microbuses,’ a construction worker who lived on the site at the time, told New Age. He said that there were ‘letters’ on the side of the vehicle but he could not read them.
The man, who along with some other workers had left Dhaka a few weeks after the incident, spoke to New Age on condition of anonymity.
The worker said that over 10 men, some with arms, got out of the vehicles. ‘Around four of them were in plain clothes and the rest seven or eight were dressed in the black uniform of RAB with black bandanas around their heads,’ he said.
According to the worker, they pulled one man out of the car, who he later learnt was Russel, and started to beat him asking ‘where is Sumon?’ Russel replied he did not know.
‘Then they used Tanvir’s mobile phone to call Sumon’s number.’ The phone of Sumon who was standing beside Tanvir rang, he said.
The men then beat Sumon and dragged him and Tanvir into one of the vehicles, and drove off. ‘The whole incident must have taken about six to seven minutes,’ he said.
He recounted how later that night, the security men from Bashundhara residential area told the workers, ‘That must have been RAB 1. They are the only ones that come here.’
The abduction of the six men was the third of the eight incidents which between 28 November and 13 December 2013 resulted in a total of 19 Dhaka-based BNP activists allegedly being picked up by state agencies.
It was a period 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 was accused of responsibility for the deaths of over 12 members of the public killed in fire-bombing attacks on vehicles.
On Friday and Saturday, New Age reported on the two previous abductions, one from outside Dhaka Central Jail and the other at Shahbagh.
The plot of land in Bashundhara residential area from where the six men were abducted was being developed by Tanvir’s family, and so the workers employed there knew that his mother lived nearby.
‘My aunt phoned our house immediately and told us that Sumon had been taken away by RAB-1,’ said Sanjida, Sumon’s younger sister.
‘Within half an hour, our mother and other members of the family drove to the office of RAB-1 in Uttara.’
‘But a duty officer denied that RAB was involved in any such incident, and said that he had no information about where Sumon might be,’ she added.
Then some members of the family went to Bhatara police station where they were told that they could only file a ‘missing GD’.
‘The police said “you can only write down that Sumon had left home, that he had not come back and that he is missing”. They did not want us to write what actually happened, and anything about RAB,’ Sumon’s sister said.
After two days, Sanjida, who was four months pregnant at the time, went to the site of the plot from where Sumon and the others were picked up. ‘We then heard the full story directly from the workers about how RAB had come and taken them away,’ she said.
Earlier, at about 5:00pm on 4 December, Al Amin, who was involved in Chhatra Dal politics at Jagannath University, told his cousin, Md Yakoob Ali, that he was going out to meet Sumon.
‘I then went out of the house and came back at about 11:00pm. My aunt, [who happens to be] Al Amin’s mother, then told me that he had not come back and his phone was off. During the night I heard my aunt crying and in the morning, I went out with Al Amin’s brother to search for him,’ he said.
He first went to the house of Russel, who along with Al Amin was a Chhatra Dal activist at the university. Russel’s sister Laboni told him that her brother had also not returned.
‘I then got a bit scared, and we went to Masum’s house and there we found out that he was also missing,’ Yakoob said.
Then they went to the Detective Branch office on Minto Road, but could not get any information as the former city mayor and BNP leader Sadeque Hossain Khoka had just been arrested.
The next day, Yakoob found out what had happened to his cousin.
‘After some days, I realised that I did not have any proof that my brother was taken away by RAB, and so I went back and recorded a conversation with some of the workers [at the site],’ he said.
New Age has also tracked down a witness who saw Sumon in the early morning of 5 December, seven hours after he was picked up, on the back of a pick-up truck in Shahinbagh where he lived.
At about 3:00am, a contractor was returning home from a construction site at Pirerbagh, where he was working at that time.
As he passed the end of the road near where he lived, he saw a vehicle. ‘There were around seven or eight men inside, and I noticed that Sumon was in it,’ the man said. ‘I was very tired at that time, and I did not pay that much attention to what was happening. I just saw Sumon Bhai in the car.’
He said that he knew Sumon really well as he had arranged the marriages of three of his daughters.
Sumon’s sister, Sanjida thinks that Sumon was taken to Shahinbagh to identify to the police the addresses of two men, Adnan Chowdhury and Md Kawser, who were picked up that morning.
RAB denies any involvement in these incidents.
During the course of the investigation, Comander Mufti Mahmud Khan, the Director of RAB’s media and legal wing, told New Age, ‘No. RAB is not involved at all. People may say that they saw RAB vehicles, but that was not the case.’
Four of the families opted to file ‘missing person GDs’ with different police stations where they lived. ‘We found nothing analysing the mobile phone call list,’ an inspector at Mugda police station told New Age. The other police stations also said that there had been no progress in their inquiries.