Saturday, December 6, 2014

'Unexpected end to a weekend in Sonargaon'

Article published in New Age on 3 December 2014

This is the seventh 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

Unexpected end to a weekend in Sonargaon 
David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
On Saturday the December 7, 2013, Mahabub Hasan Sujon, the president of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party student wing in Shabujbagh Thana in Dhaka and Kazi Farhad, the president of one of its wards, were staying at a farmhouse in Sonargaon.
The two were planning to return the following day to their rented flat in Fakirerpool, Dhaka, which they then shared with some other senior Chhatral Dal leaders.
They had come to the farmhouse at Noakandi village in Shanmandi Union two days earlier.
‘On Thursday morning, Sujon told me that the place where he lived was really risky,’ said Azad Md Sadequl Islam, a member of the family which owned the farmhouse.
‘He knew I used to go down to my farmhouse in Sonargoan between Thursday and Saturday, so Sujon asked if he could come and stay,’ Azad continued. ‘It was agreed he would leave Dhaka that morning.’

Azad joined the two men later that Thursday evening. Three other friends were also present at the farmhouse making a group of six.
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.
By that Thursday, at least 16 opposition activists or supporters had been picked up in Dhaka in the previous 9 days, their whereabouts unknown, with many others arrested on suspicion of involvement in the violence. Sujon had been named by the police in a number of criminal cases involving alleged violence.
‘I remember after dinner on Thursday night when we were watching television, Sujon pointed at the news and said that the boy on the screen, who was shown having been arrested, was the right-hand man of a leading Chhatra Dal leader,’ said Azad.
Azad was concerned about his friend’s safety. ‘He told me not to worry. He said that he was not that big a leader so the police would not arrest him from here,’ he said.
On the Saturday afternoon, two of the friends left the farmhouse to return to Dhaka, and Azad followed later that same night. ‘Sujon told me that he and Farhad would stay the night and leave for Dhaka the next day,’ Azad said.
At about 12:15 am, after he had returned to Dhaka, Azad received a call on his phone.
‘One of the construction workers staying in the farmhouse room said that Sujon had been taken away by administration people. I asked him if it was police, or DB, or RAB, but he couldn’t say for sure. But he thought it was the police,’ Azad said.
The abduction of Sujon, 31, and Farhad, 30, was the seventh of 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.
New Age has been able to track down two of the workers who were present in the farmhouse that evening.
They said that they first heard a knock on the door.
‘When they first knocked, we asked them who they were,’ one worker said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
‘They told us that they were the police. And they told us to open the door. So we opened the door and they asked us if Sujon was in our room. We told them that Sujon was not and after that, they went to Sujon’s room,’ the worker said.
Another worker corroborated this. ‘The men told us that they were from the Thana. They asked us who was in this room. We told them we are the laborers. After that they closed our door and locked it from outside so I don’t know anything further.’
Sujon’s father, Abdul Jalil Khan, heard about the incident soon after it took place.
‘The next morning we went to the District Court expecting that Sujon would be brought there but he was not,’ he said. ‘Then we enquired at different police stations, including Shabujbagh police station and the Detective Branch office but they all said that they knew nothing about the incident.’
There had been one further sighting of Sujon.
At 4.30 pm, one or two days after the two men were picked up at Sonargaon, a businessman living in Fakirerpool was having tea in an alleyway.
‘I saw of group of plainclothes men, some carrying guns, coming into the alley,’ he told New Age. ‘Along with the men I saw Sujon, whom I knew as he had lived in the area for a few weeks. He was handcuffed. They took him to building No 266 which was where Sujon used to live.’
‘All of the men were in plainclothes except one man who wore a jacket with DB written on it,’ he said.
The men stayed in the building for over an hour and came out with bags of material which the man thought had been taken from the flat where Sujon used to live.
Sujon was then taken to a white microbus that was parked in front of the Asma hotel.
The whereabouts of both Sujon and Farhad 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.’
Sabujbagh police station officer-in-charge Rafikul Islam said that the investigation into the ‘missing person’s GDs were ‘underway’ but claimed that ‘the family is not cooperating with us.’ He noted that the actual incident had not taken place under his police station’s jurisdiction.

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