David Bergman and Muktadir Rashid
In the early hours of March 8, three days before the Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Salah Uddin Ahmed is alleged to have been picked up by law enforcement officers, his two drivers and personal assistant were detained by the paramilitary force, Rapid Action Battalion, New Age can confirm.
The three men were arrested from their homes in West Kalachadpur and Badda between 1 am and 3.30 am and held for over 48 hours before being taken to a magistrate’s court two days later
where they were accused of ‘sheltering’ the BNP leader.
Investigation by New Age has also found that within an hour of the two drivers being taken from their homes, RAB officers raided a block of flats in Gulshan-1 trying to find Salah Uddin.
After searching the flats, the law enforcement officers took away a 65-year-old cook who had been living in one of the flats where the BNP joint secretary general had earlier been in hiding.
Two days after his detention, the cook was brought to Dhaka district’s magistrate court, along with Salah Uddin’s three employees, where he was also accused of ‘harbouring’ the BNP leader.
Police documents given to the court and seen by New Age acknowledge that the four men were ‘picked up by RAB’. The documents do not specify the date or time when the men were arrested.
Rapid Action Battalion admitted to New Age that they had been searching for Salah Uddin before he disappeared on 10 March, but denied that the detention of the four men suggested that the paramilitary force was subsequently involved in picking up the BNP leader.
Lieutenant Colonel Tuhin Mohammad Masud, the Rapid Action Battalion-1 commanding officer told New Age ‘we had been looking for [Salah Uddin] before [10 March] and we are still are searching for him now.’
The first man to be picked up in the early hours of the March 8 was Salah Uddin’s driver Khokon Miah who lived in West Kalachadpur, east of Gulshan-2.
At about 1 am, his neighbour Riddoy was woken up by banging on the gate which opened on to a small colony of rooms where a number of families lived.
‘I asked the men outside why they were coming here so late, and they said that “we are police men, if you open the door you will understand”.’
‘They then entered the gate and asked me whether I knew where driver Shafique lived. I said that I did not know, but I told them that there was a man, whose name I did not know, who had rented a room about a month earlier.’
The law enforcement officer then knocked on the door where the new tenant lived. ‘I heard the man say that he knew where Shafique lived, but that it was too late to go there now. The policeman then said that they needed him to come now.’
The man, whom residents only came to know later was Salah Uddin’s driver Khokon Miah, was then taken away by the law enforcement officials.
Khokon took the law enforcement officials to the house of Shafique, another driver employed by the BNP leader, who lived just a few streets away.
Shafique’s wife, Rebeka Sultana was at home fast asleep with her husband. ‘After 1 am there was banging at our metal gate door, and some men repeatedly shouted “Open the door”. I asked “who are you and what do you want?”, and they replied, “we need Shafique. Don’t worry. He will be returned after one hour.”
One of the men then said, “if we have to open the door ourselves then the consequences will be bad.” Then my husband said, ‘Open it. There is always, Allah.’
Rebeka said that four or five plain clothes men came into their house, carrying rifles strapped around their shoulders. Her husband was then taken away in a black microbus at 1.30 am.
An hour later, at about 2.30 am, two RAB-1 vehicles and a silver coloured microbus stopped outside a block of flats in Road 136 in Gulshan, and around a dozen men, some in RAB uniform with others in plain clothes, got out.
‘One of the men asked me whether Salah Uddin was living here,’ a guard Rahian told New Age. ‘I said I did not know, but I told them they should ask the building manager.’
Din Mohammed, the manager, was sleeping when the men knocked on his room. ‘They asked about Salah Uddin, but I told them I did not know anything,’ he told New Age. ‘They then wanted to go to a particular flat and I took them there. The cook, Rahim was in that flat. Then I escorted the men to all the other flats and they also searched the rooftop.’
The men stayed searching the building for a few hours and left at about 6.45 am, taking Abdul Rahim, the cook, with them. BNP sources have confirmed that, until a few days earlier, Salah Uddin had been living in the flat where Rahim was the cook. A building guard also confirmed to New Age that Salah Uddin had earlier lived there.
The last of the four men to be picked up that morning was Osman Goni, the personal secretary of Salah Uddin.
‘We were woken up at 3.30 am by knocking on the door, and my husband opened it,’ Marzana Rifat, Osman Goni’s wife told New Age at their flat in Merul Badda.
‘Two men were wearing black RAB uniforms and one was wearing a jacket with DB written on the back. The others were in plain clothes. Two men had rifles strapped to their backs,’ she said.
‘I asked why my husband was being taken and one man replied, “Your husband knows what we want to know”.’
Later that morning, both Shafique’s and Goni’s families visited RAB-1 and the detective branch office in Mintu road, and were told that they knew nothing about the arrests.
At about 7 pm on the following day, March 9, both wives received calls that their husbands were at Gulshan police station. They rushed there and found their husbands along with the cook Rahim and the driver Khokon in a cell at the station.
‘I asked my husband why he was picked up, and he replied, that he was picked up because “I worked with Sir”,’ Shafique’s wife told New Age. ‘He said that he was beaten up and had roamed different places with two other people in their vehicle.’
On the afternoon of March 10, all four men were brought to the magistrates court in Dhaka’s old town. The prosecutor told the court that the men should be remanded for police interrogation as they had sheltered Salah Uddin, an ‘associate’, who was wanted for an offence involving the throwing of cocktail bombs onto a rally on February 16 organised by the shipping minister Shahjahan Khan.
The three employees of the BNP leader were remanded in police custody for three days, and the cook for one day.
On being asked about detaining the four men for over 24 hours, the legal limit permitted for detaining someone without authorisation from the magistrate’s court, the RAB-1 commanding officer Masud said he could not ‘recall what exactly happen at that time, but we always follow the law and the suspects are always produced before the court in the stipulated time.’
On that night, March 10, Salah Uddin was allegedly picked up from a flat in Uttara. New Age has previously reported that local security guards in sector 3 of Uttara were approached that evening by RAB officials looking for road 13A where Salah Uddin was then living.
The guard of the house has also said that men, introducing themselves as detective branch officers, took the BNP leader away, blindfolded.
Source: New Age