Bangladesh: Increased threats against human rights defender

by William Gomes

(March 05, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Major Mustafizur Rahman Bokul , an army officer with the Bangladesh Army who is currently attached to the Bogra Cantonment of Bangladesh, has created tremendous influence on the local police and the Rapid Action Battalion, a paramilitary force reputed for extrajudicial killings, to eliminate Razzak and his family. Mr. F. M. A. Razzak, Editor of the Gonomichhil (a fortnightly newspaper) and President of Human Rights Development Centre (HRDC) based in Paikgachha upazilla (sub-district) under Khulna district, has helped a large number of victims of custodial torture to get medical treatment and fight their cases.

These cases mostly involve the law-enforcing agents who fabricated charges against the victims after torturing them while in arbitrary detention. He has been doing this work for the last 20 years.

The continuous and uncompromising stand against torture and injustice has made Razzak a target of the local police, their source, and beneficiaries of the arbitrary abuse of power by the influential segment of the locality.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) expressed their concern at the constant increase of threats and instances of intimidation against human rights defender. AHRC has already written separate letters to the UN Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders calling for her immediate intervention into this matter.

A family having a son employed in the Bangladesh Army had previously misguided the officials of the law-enforcement agencies, security forces and paramilitary forces to harass and torture Razzak and his family on several occasions by providing untrue information and accusationd that have later been proven false by many investigators from the governmental intelligence agencies and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

The latest development of the situation exposes the very real danger that Razzak and his family are facing the following threatening situation:

One Mr. S M Amzad Hossain had made a three-years-valid mortgage deed on 5 August 1975 with Mr. Sultan Fakir over a land for which he never claimed any ownership or attempted to take possession of the land during the tenure mentioned in the deed. Sultan, who had the land in his possession as his ancestor's property, sold the 21 decimal lands to his nephew F. M. A. Razzak in 2004. Sultan and his 75-years-old widow Mrs. Fulzan Bibi used to live in a house built in a nearby public land. In 2007, Sultan died while the said land was under the possession of Mr. Razzak.

After Sultan's death S M Amzad Hossain initiated a land dispute case over the same land with Razzak. Finally, the case was settled by the Department of Land Settlement and Survey of the country in favour of Razzak on 20 June 2010.

On 8 February 2011, Mr. S M Amzad Hossain had declared in a deed given to the Godaipur Purbopara Baitus Salam Mosque Management Committee that he (Amzad) owns the said land (which Amzad already lost to Razzak in a civil case) and donated it to the mosque urging them to recover the land from the possession of Razzak.

The management committee of the mosque, which is headed by Mr. Abul Kashem Sarder as president, and Mr. Bodiuzzaman, as secretary and vice president Mr. Rezaul Karim, is mostly occupied by one family. The members and leaders of the mosque committee immediately started mobilizing the local people by public announcements urging that everyone has moral, religious and spiritual obligations to recover the property of the mosque. However, nobody had ever checked whether the claim made by Amzad about his so called ownership of the land was valid in terms of the question of legality or not. The leaders of the mosque management committee involved a group of people, some of whom had previously been convicted in criminal charges for possessing illegal arms and drugs and stealing, to set fire to a stock of firewood that was kept adjacent to the house of Fulzan Bibi, who is uneducated in person, and later managed to get a thumb print of Fulzan on a draft complaint, making her the complainant, to file a criminal charge for attempt to murder and arson attack on her life and property. Razzak's whole family including his elderly parents, brothers and their spouses, and his wife had been made accused in the complaint, which was registered with the Paikgachha police station, as First Information Report no. 41 (GR No. 93/2011), on 22 February 2011. Sub Inspector (SI) Mr. Idris Ali was made the Investigation Officer of the case, which was recorded by the Officer-in-Charge (OC) Enamul Haque.

According to the complaint, Fulzan claims that she had BDT 18,000.00 underneath her bed and a set of ear-rings worth BDT 19,000.00 despite the fact that she, maintains her livelihood with an elderly allowance provided by the government, does not have any dependable wealth or physical capacity to earn money. At the beginning of the complaint Fulzan claims that she saw and recognized Razzak and his father and brothers when they all went to her home to attack and set fire in the night. On the contrary, she also claims that she had a delay of filing the complaint as she had to spend time to learn the details addresses of the alleged accused despite the fact that she has relations with all these persons.

The president of the management committee of mosque Mr. Abul Kashem Sarder's nephew (brother's son) Mr. Mustafizur Rahman Bokul is employed in the Bangladesh Army as a Major whose family had long enmity with Razzak's family. The committee then publicly claimed in the village that they have involved Major Mustafizur, who is currently posted in a cantonment in Bogra – around 300 kilometers far from Paikgachha – and previously seconded to the Rapid Action Battalion as a captain, to influence the police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a paramilitary force composed of officers from the armed forces, police and border guards and dominated by the military officers, and local administration to start all out action aiming to eliminate Razzak's family from the place. They have threatened that they will ensure that Razzak will be killed in "crossfire", which is State-sponsored method of extrajudicial killing with blatant impunity to the security forces and the police, as soon as the Rapid Action Battalion succeeds in arresting Razzak. The well-wishers of the family in the village are seriously intimidated and threatened by the relatives of Major Mustafizur Rahman that if anyone speaks out in favour of Razzak's family they will suffer irrecoverable damage.

Subsequently, the Paikgachha police and members of the RAB have started chasing Razzak and the other members of his family, who are in hiding for the security of their lives. When the members of the RAB went to Godaipur village in order to investigate into the matter they had a feast at Major Mustafizur's house.

From 18 February, groups of people led by Mr. Kazal Sarder attacked Razzak's family on several occasion. On 23 February, Mr. Kazal Sarder, who is a brother of Major Mustafizur Rahman, along with a number of people equipped with bamboo sticks, rod, axe and sharp weapons attacked Razzak's family. The attackers beat the residents of the house and threw bricks and stones into the house. As a result of the attack Razzak's wife Mrs. Rahima Razzak has received an injury to her leg; doctors suggested her that she should remove the nail immediately. Razzak's brother Sazzad Hossain was beaten by the attackers with fists and kicks while his wife Mrs. Shefali Khatun was beaten by sticks and kicks. The attackers trampled her as she lay her on the ground. Shefali, who received severe injuries, is still admitted to the Paikgachh Upazilla Health Complex for medical treatment. Razzak's house has also been partially damaged due to the attack.

On 28 February, a group of people led by Mr. Kazal Sarder has looted hundreds of branches of timber that Razzak's family had in the yard of the house while Razzak, along with his wife and children, was hiding for their security. After damaging the property Kazal called Razzak's wife Mrs. Rahima Razzak from his cell phone +8801823266466 and demanded money from Rahima by saying that "We may consider not to do any further attacks if you pay the expenses incurred for this (attack)!"

On 3 March at around midnight, Mr. Nur Islam Sana, an ally of Kazal Sarder and his family, called Mrs. Rahima Razzak from a cell phone +8801190961860 and demanded money.

On 4 March in the morning at least 7 cocks and hens and 5 ducks were found dead in Razzak's house while the rest of poultry of the household appeared to have suffering from serious physical problemd. The neighbours have alleged that some people from Kazal Sardar's family have poisoned the poultry.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on 28 February 2011 wrote special letters to the concerned authorities of Bangladesh urging them to initiate immediate action in order to protect the lives and property of Mr. F. M. A. Razzak informing them the current situation.

On 4 March, in the morning, Major Mustafizur Rahman Bokul's father Mr. Abdur Rour Sarder contacted Razzak's second brother Mr. F. M. A. Mazid, who is a mason by profession and a resident of the neighbourhood. Mr. Abdur Rouf Sarder told Mazid that "Call you father and brother (Razzak) here and ask them to withdraw the complaints have been made against my son (Major Mustafizur) before 12 noon today! Failure to do (withdrawing the complaint) so will cause destruction of your (family's) homes and all establishments! We will expel you (whole family) from the village!"

Razzak's family, including his elderly parents who are over 70 years of age and wife and children, has been hiding for around three weeks to save their lives while the well-wishers of the family are either hiding or keeping silence to save their life and property as well. The family has not yet got a scope of registering a formal complaint due to the security problem in the area although they have informed the police officers of the Paikgachha police station and the Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of the Dakope Circle of Khulna district over cell phones on several occassions.

When contacted the Officer-in-Charge (OC) of the Paikgachha police station Mr. Enamul Haque claimed that the police are "under tremendous pressure from the top" and "unable" to protect Razzak's family and property. The police did not take any effective action so far. There has been no credible investigation into the matter as per the complaints made the members of Razzak's family.

Human rights activist and journalist expressed their concern about the growing threats against the prominent journalist Mr. F. M. A. Razzak, Editor of the Gonomichhil (a fortnightly newspaper) and President of Human Rights Development Centre (HRDC) and his family. Recently the Paikgachha Press club shared their conceren about the fabricated charges against their journalist and the ex president of Paikgachha press club.

Journalists urged to Prime minister Sheikh Hasina to immedialtey identify the army officer, Major Mr. Mustafizur Rahman Bokul. They also urged to investigate the scheme behind the false allegation of attempt to murder and take action against the perpetrators by judicial officer.

They also urged to provide adequate protection to Razzak and the members of his family without any further delay.

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