A prominent rights group has accused Bangladesh of secretly detaining hundreds of people, including scores of opposition activists, many of whom were later killed.
The New York-based Human Rights
Watch (HRW) said in a report on Thursday that hundreds of people have been detained and held in secret locations in Bangladesh since 2013.
At least 90 people were the victims of enforced disappearance last year alone, according to the 82-page report titled “We Don’t Have Him’: Secret Detentions and Enforced Disappearances in Bangladesh.”
The report documented at least 21 detainees who were later killed, and nine others whose whereabouts are still unknown.
In the first five months of this year, 48 people have already been reported missing.
Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia
director, said that the government forces have a free hand in detaining people across the South Asian country.
“Bangladesh security forces appear to have a free hand in detaining people, deciding on their guilt or innocence, and determining their punishment, including whether they have the right to be alive,” Adams said.
“The disappearances are well-documented and reported, yet the government persists in this abhorrent practice with no regard for the rule of law,” he added.
Supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) gather for a protest rally as they mark the second anniversary of a general election boycotted by the party and its allies in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 5, 2016. (Photo by AP)
Among those missing is Sajedul Islam Sumon, 37, a Dhaka neighborhood chief of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Sumon’s sister Sanjida Islam has accused officers from the country’s elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) of detaining her brother and five other BNP activists on December 4, 2013.
“Some 20 construction workers who were on the site told us RAB officers picked them up and led them away on a RAB van. They were never returned,” AFP quoted her as saying.
“For the last three years and eight months, we’ve knocked on doors, gone to every agency’s office and met the home minister to know my brother’s whereabouts,” she said.
The HRW report was released days after the alleged abduction of a high-profile government critic.
Police have already filed a kidnapping case over the disappearance of Farhad Mazhar, who was found on a coach earlier this week after his wife reported him missing. He had been blindfolded and taken away in a vehicle.
Bangladeshi police fire tear gas shells towards demonstrators in Dhaka on January 26, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Meanwhile, the mothers of 22 of the missing activists have set up a group to seek government answers on the cases.
Political tensions are rising in Bangladesh ahead of a national election due next year.
The BNP and its ally Jamaat-e-Islami have said thousands of their activists and supporters have been arrested in recent years.
Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan, however, rejected the allegations, saying the detentions were lawful. He has also accused HRW of spreading “negative propaganda.”
“Since Bangladesh’s inception, they are trying to spread … negative propaganda which has no similarity with the reality,” Khan said.