BANGLADESH: A human rights defender returns home, tells story of terrifying abduction and interrogation
The Asian Human Rights Commission this morning issued two urgent statements of extreme concern for the situation of human rights defenders in Bangladesh, and in particular over the disappearance of a young human rights activist, Dipal Barua, yesterday, May 24. Dipal has been working for the last few weeks on the efforts for the life and security of another human rights defender, FMA Razzak, on whom the AHRC has been conducting an international campaign: http://www.humanrights.asia/campaigns/attack-on-fma-razzak
We can now inform that Dipal returned to his house around 3:30pm local time, today, May 25, having been abducted and interrogated over his human rights activities. The story of his terrifying ordeal reveals that the concerted attacks on human rights defenders in Bangladesh are part of a programme by agencies of the government of Bangladesh, operating in secret, to counter the campaign of the AHRC and its partners who have acted to protect the life of FMA Razzak and demand that his perpetrators be brought to justice.
The details of his abduction and interrogation are briefly as follows.
Dipal was returning from a friend's house at Sayeedabad in the city of Dhaka between 11am and noon yesterday when on the road next to the Sayeedabad Bus Terminal a man wearing black sunglasses called to him. The man asked him where the counter of Hanif Enterprises was located. Dipal pointed in the direction of the counter. Then, the person requested Dipal to go and show the place. Dipal walked with him to show the place. They walked a very short distance and as they were passing a black jeep, someone opened the door from within and pulled Dipal inside. Both the person whom he was accompanying and someone inside said, "Get in!" Then the door closed and the jeep started moving.
Inside the vehicle there were four men, including the driver. One man sitting to the left of the driver was talking into a wireless radio. One man sat on the left hand side and one on the right hand side of Dipal. The windows of the car were tinted so that people could not see inside and Dipal could not see outside.
Immediately after taking Dipal inside the car the men snatched away his mobile phone and blindfolded him with black cloth. They also covered his head with a black hood and handcuffed him. The car drove for about an hour. On the way, Dipal asked the men, "Sir, why do you take me like this? What crime have I committed?" They did not answer the questions. Instead, they used abusive language at him.
At an unknown place, they took Dipal out of the car, and into what seemed like a room. There, they took of the handcuffs and told him to remove his clothes. He removed his shirt but not his pants. He told them that he did not want to be naked. They told him, "You should decide on that, otherwise we know how to do it". Then he removed his pants. The men put him inside a cold room naked, and the door was closed.
Dipal thinks that he was kept in the room for about seven hours. After some time, he was thirsty. He shouted to get water but no one responded. He also wanted to urinate and shouted for help. As there was again no response, he had to urinate inside the room.
After this time, men took Dipal to another room. He thinks that the time was midnight or early morning. There were, he thinks, seven to eight persons inside this room, judging by the voices he heard.
The men in the room questioned Dipal: why had he visited Razzak in hospital many times? Why was Razzak shifted from the Dhaka Medical College Hospital to a private hospital? How much money was paid to Razzak by the AHRC? How long he has been engaged in the work of the AHRC? Who are the other persons working for the AHRC in Bangladesh? Where do these persons reside and where are they based? Are the persons currently living in Bangladesh or not? Who is the boss of the AHRC's Bangladesh work? When does that boss visit to Bangladesh? When is the boss coming to Bangladesh for the next visit? Who came from Hong Kong to visit Razzak after his hospitalization? Whom did the AHRC team meet during their visit? Had not ten million Taka (about 1.4 million USD) been sent to Dipal and his friends from abroad for human rights work and where is the money?
Similar questions were repeatedly asked for an hour or so. Thereafter, the interrogators told Dipal that they were going to kill him. He got frightened and told them that he has aged parents and appealed to them not to kill him. He said that he is willing to do whatever they ask and asked them to spare his life.
Then the men told Dipal to sever all connections with all persons associated with the AHRC and not to visit any of them. The men mentioned the names of several other persons, and told him not to have any contact with them either. Among them, they specifically accused him of having contact with the leader of the political opposition in the country, Khaleda Zia, and of having met her on several occasions as part of a conspiracy to bring her to power. They told him that they were going to give him a chance and that he should use it, that if he again had contact with those persons, he would not have such a chance.
During the interrogation Dipal asked for some water and the men gave him a little. They gave two slices of bread in the morning. Then they put him back in the cold room until the afternoon time, when they took him back to the same place from where they had picked him up on the previous day.
The story of this abduction and interrogation speaks for itself. It reveals that not only are the attacks on human rights defenders in Bangladesh organized, systematic and life threatening, but they are also in particular targeting persons connected to the AHRC, or persons suspected of contact with the AHRC, presumably because of the intense pressure being brought on the perpetrators of the brutal eye-gouging attack on FMA Razzak. These attacks on human rights defenders are the response of the agents of a system of deeply entrenched impunity to an attempt in one single case to challenge the impunity of one among their numbers.
The Asian Human Rights Commission condemns in the strongest possible terms this sinister programme of attacks upon human rights activists and calls for all groups and individuals in both the Bangladeshi domestic and international communities to do the same. We urge that there at once be a full investigation launched into this latest incident, and for guarantees of protection for Dipal Barua and other persons associated with the AHRC in Bangladesh. We also especially request all diplomatic missions in Bangladesh to take up this matter with the government directly, and as a top priority.
The situation for these human rights defenders is extremely dangerous. As of this moment, it is very likely that many others will be subjected to harassment and also possibly to further abductions and interrogations. It is also entirely conceivable in a country where extrajudicial killings are a commonplace that the persons responsible for these threats are fully prepared to make good upon them. For these reasons, the solidarity of the international human rights community is vital for the human rights defenders of Bangladesh at this precarious time.