When Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took office in 2009, she promised to put an end to human rights abuses, and she has worked diligently to do so ever since.
Nonetheless, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has perpetuated the notion that the government is to blame for what they call “enforced disappearances” of political leaders.
Some international organizations have bought this line. But that doesn’t change the facts. The claim is simply untrue.
Bangladesh police have investigated every instance of a reported disappearance. They have found no evidence of government involvement. What they have found, instead, is that many of the “disappeared” were in hiding, evading prosecution for violent crimes.
Over the country’s 47-year history, Bangladesh has witnessed too much politically motivated violence. Bangladeshis have also become all too familiar with the concept of “enforced disappearances.” Earlier military juntas and caretaker governments used the tactic. While these crimes have been relegated to Bangladesh’s history, fear and suspicion linger. The BNP’s accusations strike a resonant chord.
The BNP’s use of disruptive political tactics isn’t new. Instead of contesting the 2014 election, for example, it instigated nationwide strikes. BNP leaders and their collaborators also set fire to thousands of homes, cars, buildings and businesses.
They ransacked and demolished power stations, killed 20 law enforcement officers and torched government buildings. On election day, they firebombed polling booths. In all, the BNP-backed attacks killed 231 people and injured 1,180 others.
The BNP’s protests didn’t work as its leaders had hoped. The government deployed troops to stop the violence and arrested the ringleaders.
The majority party in Bangladesh, the Awami League, continues to lead the nation in a progressive, secular and democratic direction. The BNP’s standing in public opinion polls has plummeted. Its leader, Tarique Rahman, fled the country to avoid charges of orchestrating a grenade attack that killed 20 people. Bereft of options, the BNP has elected to pursue a strategy of flight and conspiracy theories.
Wanted by Bangladeshi police, several of BNP’s leaders went into hiding. Other BNP members began calling these incidents “disappearances” and perpetuating the myth that the government was behind them.
The so-called “disappearances” are neither crimes nor human rights abuses. Rather, they are fictitious attempts by accused criminals to avoid prosecution and accountability.
Take the case of Salahuddin Ahmed, a BNP-linked intellectual. In 2015, Ahmed “disappeared” and the BNP claimed that he had been kidnapped by Bangladeshi police. Here’s the catch: Saluhuddin turned up just two months later in India. He had been enjoying a round of golf when police found him, according to reports. Indian authorities charged him with having “conspired the entire episode” to avoid prosecution in his own country.
In July 2017, Farhad Mazhar supposedly “disappeared.” But within a few hours, police found him on a bus to Dhaka. There was no evidence that he had been taken against his will. In fact, police discovered security footage of Mazhar wandering freely in the New Market area of Khulna on the afternoon that he went missing.
In August 2017, Syed Sadat Ahmed, who was wanted by the police in connection with an arson attack, was also reported missing. In December, he, too, turned up, unharmed and living in Dhaka’s Shahjadpur district.
These are just a few examples of the phony attempts by BNP members to avoid prosecution for their crimes. Tragically, these false reports have caused many at home and abroad to question the practices and trustworthiness of Bangladeshi authorities. This is a mistake.
At every turn, the Bangladesh police force has conducted itself in accord with both international law and the country’s own laws. As a signatory to the 1984 U.N. Convention Against Torture, and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Bangladesh has worked to ensure that its domestic laws are in line with its obligations under the Convention.
In addition, Article 35 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment or treatment.” Similarly, Section 330 of the Bangladesh Penal Code prohibits causing harm to extort a confession or information.
The government of Bangladesh is determined to abide by the rule of law. It oversees police and law enforcement authorities with this always in mind. Its actions are also subject to scrutiny by the press and other interested parties.
There’s simply no way for the police to get away with kidnaping opposition politicians in broad daylight. And, in a democracy like Bangladesh, there is no reason to make political opponents disappear.