Saturday, February 10, 2018

Boris Johnson and British man secretly detained in Bangladesh

When late last year, the UK foreign minister Boris Johnson visited Iran, a country at the centre of various military conflicts and diplomatic controversies, the only issue that concerned the British media was his conversations with the Iranian government about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a british-Iranian woman convicted on trumped up charges of plotting to “topple the regime”.

The dual British-Iranian national, initially detained in April 2016 as she sought to return with her daughter back to london following a family holiday, is now languishing in a Tehran jail after she was sentenced for five years.

Boris Johnson arrived in Bangladesh on Friday, but it looks like that the release of a British-Bangladeshi man who was picked up by law enforcement authorities in July 2016, and has been secretly detained ever since, was not on his agenda.

Unlike Nazanin, who at least went through a legal process (however inadequate) and receives visits in a jail from her family, the exact whereabouts of Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukder is not known. He is one of the hundreds of people in Bangladesh who have in recent years been abducted by law enforcement authorities and stuck in a secret detention cell totally outside the legal process.

You might well imagine that the British government would be all over the case of the "enforced disappearance" of a British citizen by another state. When Talukdar’s case came to public attention in October 2016, four months after he was picked up, the British high commission in Bangladesh acknowledged that the Physics teacher was “detained in July 2016” and that the foreign office was “continuing to press the Bangladesh authorities for consular access.”

However, since then the British government has not made any public statement about Talukdar’s disappearance – and it does not seem to be of any great concern to the British government. There is no hue and cry.

It is true that Talukdar is a far less sympathetic character than Nazanin, since it appears that he was picked up by Bangladesh state agents because of his alleged involvement in militancy – but, even if true, this is no justification for keeping someone detained in secret cells, his whereabouts unknown, without any legal redress for 18 months. And Yasin is not the only British citizen in recent years to have been secretly detained in recent years which the government has ignored

The British government does little to pressure the Bangladesh government over the increasingly widespread practice of secret detentions and disappearances of Bangladeshis, pointing out that it cannot intervene when the person picked up is not British. However one would certainly hope that where the person disappeared by Bangladesh state agents was in fact British,  the British government would make a song and dance over that person's secret detention. 

Boris Johnson still has another day in Bangladesh. Lets hope during that time he can pressure the Bangladesh government to release Talukdar - as well as condemn the continuing disappearances of those in Bangladesh without British citizenship.

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