Zahurul Haque Khandaker, a retired honorary captain of the Bangladesh Army, died in a prison hospital this October, apparently from liver disease.
The police claim that three weeks earlier, Zahurul (popularly known as Captain Zahur) was arrested along with two other retired army members, Khorshed Alam Patwari and Akidul Ali. They were accused of membership of a “banned terrorist organisation” and involvement “in anti-state and terrorist activities.” Court papers state that following a case lodged against them eight months earlier, the three “criminal associates” had been hiding themselves amongst the missionary muslims of the Tablighi Jamaat in Narayanganj.
However, this is very far from being the real story. The three men are not terrorists. They were not in hiding for eight months. And there are good reasons to believe that Zahurul did not die from natural causes. To understand what actually happened to these three men one needs to know about an ongoing vendetta which has so far lasted for twenty months.
This revolves around a falling out between the Bangladeshi prime minister’s security adviser Major General (retired) Tarique Ahmed Siddique and his erstwhile business partner Colonel (retired) Shahid Uddin Khan, who is now living in the United Kingdom. The two men used to be very close friends. For nine years, their families jointly owned a land company — Prochhaya Limited — that had made both the families rich.
This changed on April 4th 2018, the day after Colonel Khan, on General Siddique’s request, closed the company down. Officials from Bangladesh’s military intelligence agency, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), raided Khan’s Dhaka office and removed all the papers involving the company, off loading them at Siddique’s house.
Since then, Khan has been the target of a sustained campaign of aggressive harassment by Bangladeshi state agencies, resulting in him being branded a terrorist and placed on Interpol’s Red Notice List. It has also resulted in the closure of his bank accounts; the appropriation of his money in Bangladesh; and, the apparent detention and continued enforced disappearance of one of his brothers.
The three men — Zohurul, Khorshed and Akidul — were collateral damage in Siddique’s alleged vendetta. Their crime was nothing but being employed by a man that a very powerful Bangladeshi security czar wanted to discredit and ruin. They appear simply to have been used as counters to get at Khan.
It all started for them when Khan’s office where they worked was raided in April 2018. DGFI officers first forcibly took them to Siddique’s residence, and then detained them for around 48 hours at the intelligence agency’s headquarters, where they were interrogated about their boss.
Their experience at that time is set out in detailed and notarised affidavits.
Khan sought to fight back and sent out legal notices to the Siddiques (the general and his wife) and the DGFI. And then, on January 13th 2019, in apparent retaliation for Khan’s brazenness, law enforcement officers picked up the three men again. Five days later, Khan’s home was raided, and a fictitious case was filed alleging that the men were terrorists working under the command of Khan.
For the next eight months, the men remained in secret detention, their exact whereabouts unknown. Their “arrest” in September was nothing but a staged police stunt, as throughout this period they were in state custody.
[Netra News sought a response from Major General (retired) Tarique Ahmed Siddique and the Bangladesh government. At the time of publication, no responses have been provided. However, previously Siddique has denied the allegations against him, stating that he had proof that “the office workers […] hid themselves to put blame of abduction on DGFI and me.” DGFI has also previously “strongly denied” involvement in any of the incidents and claimed that Colonel (retired) Shahid Uddin Khan has directed his employees “to hide themselves so that investigating authorities cannot interview them.” The agency has also previously claimed that Khan has been involved in “controversial activities”, which are “detrimental to military environment and security”, including the “embezzlement of properties”. Khan denies the claims made by DGFI.]
While it is possible that Captain Zahurul’s death was not linked to the months he was held in some dark secret cells, it is more likely that it was. Moreover, he died just days after his two colleagues decided to give confessional statements before the magistrate’s court, and it is not unreasonable to suspect that Zohurul’s death was linked to how the agents of the state dealt with him after he seemingly was unwilling to give a confessional statement.
There is no Bangladeshi institution that is able to stand up to such exercise of arbitrary and brute power. Not a single article has been published in the Bangladeshi mainstream media about the secret detention of the three men (all retired army members); the death of Zahurul; or, the sustained harassment of Shahid Uddin Khan.
The media does not dare.
And these days few relatives of a disappeared person would consider approaching the courts for fear of repercussions. They also know that the courts are, in any case, unwilling to rule against the government and provide relief.
The stories of these three men — as well as others caught up in this private vendetta — illuminates the terrible effect of the arbitrary abuse of coercive powers by state actors, the inability of institutions to control their use, and the casual victimisation of ordinary people.●
David Bergman (@TheDavidBergman) — a journalist based in Britain — is Editor, English of Netra News.
🔗 Al Jazeera, March 20th 2019 — Bangladesh top security adviser accused of abductions.
🔗 Bangladesh Politico, June 25th 2019 — “Vendetta” by PM’s Security Adviser turns business partner into a “terrorist”
🔗 Al Jazeera, November 22nd 2019 — Employee of UK-based Bangladeshi businessman dies in custody.