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Political disappearances plague Bangladesh

Disappearance of leading opposition member highlights major shortcomings in country's justice system.
Last modified: 22 Apr 2012 14:01
Photo by AFP

Human rights organisations say about 100 people, mostly political activists, have disappeared in the last year in Bangladesh.

Among them is Ilyas Ali, a former parliament member from the region of Sylhet. He was seen as a rising figure among the ranks of the opposition. Ali's wife is convinced security forces abducted him because of his political activities.

While her fears are not groundless, it is also true that local politicians are often linked to organised crime. Many of those who have disappeared had a criminal past. Ali, for example, had spent time in prison on suspicion of murder.

Adilur Rahman, a Dhaka-based human-rights lawyer, believes that the disappearances reveal the shortcomings of the justice system.

There is a two-three year backlog of cases in court and criminals often go unpunished.

"Many local politicians believe they are above the law," Rahman says. "These disappearances are a form of quick justice."

Security forces, though, deny any involvement in the disappearances.

Recently, after a meeting with her intelligence chief, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the Bangladesh prime minister, said that Ilyas was in hiding and this was a ploy to stir up trouble.

The opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), along with its 18 political allies, responded by announcing a countrywide general strike on Sunday.

After a night of violence, during which angry opposition activists torched vehicles, schools, businesses and shops remained shut throughout on Sunday.

About 30,000 extra police officers were on duty and security forces cordoned off the BNP headquarters in the capital, Dhaka.

Opposition activists who were to be seen on the streets said hundreds of their colleagues had been arrested.

Striking a note of defiance, they have vowed to continue to protest until Ilyas Ali is found alive.