DHAKA – Family members of hundreds of people who disappeared between 2009 and 2019 in Bangladesh, took to the street in capital Dhaka on Saturday demanding the authorities to return their relatives immediately.
Local human rights defenders, members of the civil society, and academic scholars expressed solidarity with the families during a human chain protest in front of the National Press Club.
Mayer Dak (Mother’s Call, in English), a platform of the mothers of disappeared people, organized the protest as part of the International Week of Disappeared, which is being observed from Saturday.
Adiba Islam was one of the participants in the human chain.
Adiba was just two when her father Pervez Hossain disappeared on December 8, 2013.
Staring at a photo of her father, the president of a local unit of the student wing of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalists Party, Adiba was left wondering when he would come home.
“I want to go to school with my father. I am getting old, if he does not come back when I will go to school with him,” Adiba told protesters.
Adiba’s mother, Farzana Akter, told EFE a group of people identifying themselves as members of a detective branch of the police force took her husband away from the Shahbag area of Dhaka.
“We went to all law-enforcing agencies but none admitted arresting him. I was pregnant when my husband disappeared. Now my son is six years old but he is yet to see his father,” said Farzana.
Shafiqur Rahman said his son, Saifur Rahman, a BNP leader, disappeared on February 18, 2015.
“He was the only earning member of our family. Now my grandson asks me every day when his father will be back. I console him saying that his father is living in aboard,” he said.
Paris-based human rights group the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in a report titled “Vanished without a Trace: The Enforced Disappearance of Opposition and Dissent in Bangladesh,” said enforced disappearances have continued with alarming frequency in Bangladesh amid a tense and highly polarized political environment.
At least 92 people were believed to have been subjected to an enforced disappearance by the authorities in 2018 – bringing the total number of cases of enforced disappearances documented since the beginning of 2009 to 507, the report said.
Out of the 507 cases of enforced disappearances that have been documented by civil society organizations from January 2009 to the end of 2018, 62 people were found dead, 286 returned alive, and the whereabouts of 159 disappeared persons is still unknown.
FIDH noted that enforced disappearances significantly increased in Bangladesh after the Awami League took power under the leadership of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in 2009, and in particular since 2013.
“Enforced disappearance is the worst kind of crime. It is, in fact, worse than killing someone, a crime against humanity,” Nasiruddin Elan, director of local rights group Odhikar told EFE on the sidelines of the protest.
“It is the duty of law enforcing agencies to find the disappeared. But when we see they don’t co-operate the victim families, we get reasons to believe that the members of law-enforcing agencies are involved with this,” he added.