Article published in New Age on 2 December 2014
This is the sixth 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
2 taken from area close to airport
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
It was ten o’clock at night on Friday, December 6, 2013 and things were quiet at Mollartek’s bazaar, located near Dhaka’s international airport.
One of the few shops open was a small launderette run by Md Jasim Uddin.
At that time Jasim was not at his laundry. An hour or so earlier he had asked someone else to look after his business so that he could carry out some family chore.
Sitting on a motorbike in front of the launderette, talking to some friend was Jasim’s friend, Tariqul Islam Jhantu, 28, the joint secretary of the student wing of the opposition Bangladesh National Party at Tejagon College.
On his way home, Jamal an owner of a business down the road, walked past the laundry and mentioned to Jhantu that it was late and he should get back home, as things were ‘tense’. The BNP student activist however was having none of it. Jamal walked on to his house.
Perhaps about ten minutes later, the launderette owner started to walk back from his home to close his business for the night.
‘As I walked down the alley [beside the shop] I saw Jhantu standing there with handcuffs on, and with a man holding him,’ the launderette owner said.
‘As soon as I looked I knew it was Jhantu. He is my customer, and I have known him for about seven years,’ he said.
Jasim said that there was another man standing with Jhantu, also handcuffed, though he did not recognise who he was.
The launderette owner was scared and walked straight past his friend and slipped into his shop, which was just at the corner of the alleyway.
‘Some men then came into my shop and started searching the launderette and asked me whether Jhantu had kept anything inside the shop or not,’ he said.
The men were in civilian dress and Jasim did not think they were armed.
‘After keeping Jhantu and the other man standing for some minutes in the alleyway, they then took them into a microbus, and drove off. The microbus was parked further down the road outside my launderette.’
The abduction of Jhantu was the sixth of eight incidents, which, between November 28 and December 13, 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 accused of responsibility for the deaths of over 12 members of the public, killed in fire-bombing attacks on vehicles.
In the past few days, New Age has reported on the previous abductions, involving people taken from outside Dhaka Central Jail, at Shahbagh, inside Bushandara Residential Area and in Shahinbagh.
After he saw the vehicle driving away, Jasim wanted to inform Jhantu’s family about what had happened, but did not have a contact number. Instead he called Jamal, who had earlier walked past the launderette, and told him that Jhantu had been arrested and taken away. However Jamal also did not know how to contact the family.
Jhantu’s mother was in the meantime getting worried. Her son had gone out of the house at about 8 pm and still had not returned.
‘I found Jhantu’s phone switched off. I was worried as he was involved in politics,’ Hasina Begum, his mother said.
His mother stayed awake for sometime, waiting up for him, continually trying to reach him on the phone, but at some point that night she fell asleep.
In the morning there was still no sign of Jhantu.
At 10am, the family was having breakfast when Jamal came round and told them about Jhantu. ‘He said Jasim had told him that Detective Branch people had picked him up,’ his mother said.
Jhantu’s brother, Mithun, then went to the launderette and spoke directly to Jasim.
‘After that I went to the district court, spending the whole day there, assuming that he would be brought to court,’ Mithun said. ‘But there was no sign of Jhantu.’
‘A police official told me that sometimes the detective branch takes a few days before bringing someone to court, so my brother could be brought the following day,’ he said. ‘So the next day I also spent in court hoping to see my brother.’
A few days later the family went to the local Dakkhinkhan police station.
‘The duty officer told me that if you want to file a case then you have to specify the name of the accused who picked up your brother,’ Mithun said. ‘He said that instead you can just file a missing person GD. And that is what I did.’
Jhantu was not the only person picked up that day. The other man that Jashim saw with handcuffs in the alley is likely to have been Nizam Uddin Munna, 24, the joint secretary of BNP student wing at Biman Bander Thana.
‘He had gone out of the house at about 6.30 pm,’ Munna’s father Shamsuddin told New Age.
‘At about 9.30, I got a call from him asking me to come to a crossroad in the Mollartek market so that he could give me some things that he had brought. When I got there, he gave me a small bag of vegetables and medicine.’
According to Munna’s father, his son then received a call on his mobile phone and he walked off in the direction of Jasim’s launderette. The father then says that he saw his son being picked up by about five plain clothes men, who then put him in a white microbus.
‘I ran towards there and shouted, “why are you taking my son away” and one of them replied that there was an allegation against him. One man said he was from DB and another said that he was from RAB. The rickshaw driver who was with me also asked “where are you taking our Munna”. He was badly beaten for that.’
Munna’s father returned home to tell his family what happened, and along with another of his sons, he went directly to RAB-1 office in Uttara.
‘The guard said there was no accused person named Munna there, so I had better look somewhere else,’ the father said.
He then went to the DB office in Mintu Road.
‘I stayed outside the office until ten in the morning, looking at all the vehicles that came into and out of the office to see if my son was there.’
He then went back to the RAB office. ‘A duty officer called Shariff checked the register and visited the custody area, talked with someone over the phone and after about 30 minutes said that no one called Munna was there.’
Till now, the whereabouts of both Jhantu and Munna are not known.
Both RAB and Detective branch deny any involvement in these incidents.
Shamimur Rashid Talukdar, the officer-in-charge of Dakkhinkhan police station said that following the missing person GDs filed by both families, ‘we have done intense investigation but have found nothing … nobody says that law enforcers were involved … in fact we had not found a single eye-witness to the incident.’