Families of disappeared say that Bangladesh police are trying to mislead UN bodies by pressing them to retract claims.

Police pressure families of the disappeared Netra News January 13, 2022

Children hold pictures of their fathers as they join in an event to mark the International Day of the Disappeared in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 30 August 2021. (Photo by Suvra Kanti Das/Sipa USA)

Updated with police response

Bangladesh police are putting pressure on families of disappeared men, whose cases have been taken up by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), to sign statements denying that they were picked up by law enforcement authorities, relatives of the men claim.

“Instead of investigating the allegations, the police are trying to mislead the UN working group by getting the families to sign statements saying that the previous information they had given to the police is incorrect and the family members are actually in hiding,” said Sanjida Islam who helps run the organisation Mayer Dak representing disappeared families, and whose brother, Sumon, was picked up on December 4th 2013. “Police are going to many families, sometimes numerous times, trying to get them to sign a document where it is stated that the family members have withheld and suppressed information.”

She told Netra News that she had just heard from the family of Parvez Hossain, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party student activist who was picked up on December 2nd 2013 that about “fifteen men, some police, some civil dressed men, some Awami League activists” had just come to their house, and told his wife on the phone, “you know where your husband is. We want to meet you.”  

Abdul Jalil Khan, the father of Mahbub Hasan Sujon, who was picked up on December 7th 2013, five days after Parvez, said that the police had also come to his house on Sunday, January 10th 2021.

“Yesterday police from the Sabujbagh thana brought [with them to our house] a written statement about my son” he says on a video which was posted on the Bangladesh Nationalist Party Facebook page. “They asked me to sign that statement. I read the statement and found that the statement is not related to the disappearance of my son. That is why I refused to sign it.” 

Sujon’s mother Rashida Begum added, that the police statement which the family refused to sign had said “our son went into hiding.”

Human Rights Watch has published details of the eye-witness and other evidence which support the claims of the families of Parvez, Sujon and Sumon that law enforcement agencies picked the three men up in separate incidents.

While it appears many families have refused to sign the statements, some families have signed, including the sister of Kazi Farhad who was picked up along with Sujon in December 2013

On December 30th 2021, the Bangladeshi law Minister, Anisul Huq, told the media that the government was investigating alleged disappearances where the person’s whereabouts remains unknown which were mentioned by the WGEID which sent a letter to the government at the end of 2021. It is not clear whether the current police activity is part of this announced “investigation” or some other initiative on the part of the government.

Huq has not responded to attempts to speak to him.

Earlier in December, the US Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on RAB and seven senior army and police officers, including Benazir Ahmed, the former head of RAB and now the Inspector General of the Bangladesh Police, in relation to the unit’s serious human rights violations.

The US Treasury press release noted, “Widespread allegations of serious human rights abuse in Bangladesh by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) — as part of the Bangladeshi government’s war on drugs — threaten US national security interests by undermining the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the economic prosperity of the people of Bangladesh.”

It also added, “NGOs have alleged that RAB and other Bangladeshi law enforcement are responsible for more than 600 disappearances since 2009, nearly 600 extrajudicial killings since 2018, and torture. Some reports suggest these incidents target opposition party members, journalists, and human rights activists.” 

The Bangladesh government has criticised the imposition of the sanctions claiming it was not based on proper research●

Update

On Friday, January 14th 2022, a day after the Netra News report was published, Dhaka Metropolitan Police Headquarters (DMP) stated that reports by “a number of media outlets” claiming police were pressuring families of disappeared are “exaggerated and distorted”. The written statement issued by the DMP accused these reports of “apparently trying to defame the police force.”

“In order to present updated information related to allegations made by different national and international organisations about “disappearances” and in order to advance investigations into these allegations, it is conventionally the duty of the police or law enforcement organisations to collect information from and keep in contact with the victims and complainants,” the statement in Bengali read.

The DMP statement claimed that Mahbub Hasan Sujon’s brother Md Shakil Khan provided new information relating to the place of disappearance of his brother when the police “contacted” his family earlier this month on January 10th. This new information was not previously mentioned in the General Diary lodged with the Sabujbagh thana, police claimed.

“When police asked them to provide this [new] information in writing [and] in more detail, he (Shakil Khan) and his father refused to do so. But later he lied to the media and said, police tried to get his father to sign a blank paper. On the other hand, the sister and brother-in-law of of Kazi Farhad, who went missing together with Mahbub Hasan Shujon, provided detailed written information about the missing [of Farhad] to the police.”

The DMP statement went onto say that police take allegations of any kind “seriously” and take “legal steps to conduct investigations.” It added that, to “characterise and declare police work as harassment and releasing one-sided statement about that are tantamount to non-cooperation with police investigation.”