Security crackdown at Mithapukur; Allegations of Vandalism, Abductions by Security Forces

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On the 14th of January, security forces began carrying out an operation at three villages in Mithapukur, Rangpur. Media confirmed that the operation began on Wednesday evening from about 7 pm, quoting Mithapukur police station OC Robiul Islam, who added that they had started by holding a joint operation at various places in Titlee at Mithapukur. Reports have emerged of the arrest of several people by the security forces, amid reports of excesses committed by the security personnel and allegations of torture, abduction and vandalism along with the involvement of local units of the Awami League. People have been reported fleeing the security crackdown in anticipation of mass arrests in wake of an arson attack on a night coach in which five people were burnt to death at Mithapukur upazila in Rangpur early Wednesday, the 9th day of the blockade. Opposition activists have maintained that the arson attack being used to justify the present crackdown was a deliberate instance of sabotage aimed at shifting focus away from the widespread crackdown presently prevalent in Bangladesh in which hundreds have already been arrested, along with many senior leaders of the opposition BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami.

Media however, have largely being silent on the excesses committed by the security forces in collusion with Awami League cadres at Mithapukur over the past couple of days.

Mithapukur residents relive their ordeal on social media

A facebook comment narrates the experience:

“ Salam to all. Combined forces, along with the local Awami League workers, are carrying out an operation at three villages in Mithapukur. In the process, they have vandalized and ransacked many homes, including the home of  Jamaat supported upazila vice Chairman Abdul Baset Marjan. They have entered these houses and vandalized everything, including expensive household items such as the fridge, television sets and dressing tables among other expensive furniture. Where they were unable to find the men, they have even resorted to arresting the women from inside their homes. The (security) situation at Mithapukur is very fearsome. The League men are presently in our area; I do not know what more are they planning (to do)? I ask all to make dua for us more and more.

For on one side there is the bitter cold of the winter, and now on top of this the houses of the residents have been ransacked and most of the people have had to flee from their homes. I am unable to do anything but weep for these utterly helpless people.

“Our Lord, take us out of this city of oppressive people and appoint for us from Yourself a protector and appoint for us from Yourself a helper?” [Surah Nisa – 75] “

In a facebook comment, the experiences of a resident of Mithapukur and an eyewitness stated,

 “I do not know what to write of what is happening here. Section 144 has been imposed on our area. Everybody has been ordered (by the security forces) to stay away from their homes, taking their essential items with them. During the afternoon, the brother who was picked up (by the security forces)….. now I am hearing that he has been shot at…… he was shot by local League cadre Limon. No house in the area is safe now….. I do not know where we will keep father, and where we are going to stay. Oh and the brother who was shot at….. his wife is presently held at the RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) camp. I do not know whether this will turn into a new Satkhira! Oh Allah please forgive us; make the trials easy for us. Ameen”

Below is a gallery highlighting vandalism carried out by security personnel at the house of upazila vice Chairman Abdul Baset Marjan,

Hardline stance by government and administration

In a synchronised move that seemed to signal the start of an even more hardline stance by the government in light of the Mithapukur arson incident, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy posted on his facebook page,

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” Last night BNP-Jamaat terrorists burnt four people to death on a bus in Rangpur. They have injured and killed several more in the past few days with their cowardly arson attacks. This is terrorism and murder. This will not stop until the leaders who order these terror attacks are brought to justice. The top leadership of the BNP should be charged with terrorism and murder.”

On the other hand, the Inspector general of police AKM Shahidul Hoque on Friday said the police ‘with the last drops of their blood’ would protect the elected government and eliminate the terror unleashed by the ‘anti-liberation elements’ in the name of movement. The police chief was addressing an exchange of view on ‘Eliminating terrorism and violence’ on the Mithapukur Girls High School premises in the district on Friday.

Addressing the programme, Rapid Action Battalion director general Benazir Ahmed said a handful of terrors had declared ‘war against the state, the people and society’. The director general of RAB said in his speech, “Let the destructive rebels come, they are welcome to come with their life in their hands. In Rangpur there are 35 thousand people and amongst them there could be 70 or 700 who want to go to unlawful war against the people and the state. I say to them war means casualties. So come (and rebel) and your life will be at risk. We will do whatever is necessary for us to do.”

A mother’s anguish from Mithapukur

Speaking in an emotion choked voice to a room filled with journalists, a distraught Matowara Begum, resident of a village in Rangpur, demanded that her son, her daughter in law and a household help girl, be immediately returned to her family, after men claiming to be government security forces picked them up last Wednesday from in front of hundreds of people in over allegations of their connection with a recent petrol bomb attack on a passenger bus at Rangpur.
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Speaking at a press briefing on 15th January,Thursday night at Rangpur Reporter’s Club, she demanded their safe and quick return back to their family and asked for the assistance of the government and its security forces in this regard.

In a written statement demanding to know of the whereabouts of her son, daughter-in-law and a household help girl, missing since being picked up on Wednesday, Matowara Begum said, “Last Wednesday evening, men claiming to be members of the security forces raided Chithli Dokkhinpara village and brought out my son Al-Amin Kabir, who was sleeping at the moment, outside the house. Then they publicly beat him up in front of more than a hundred people and inhumanely tortured him. At one stage they tied up his eyes and mouth with a black cloth and took him away. The men also picked up his wife Beauty Begum and the household helping hand of a local student mess Moushumi”

Family members Zakaria and Zahir Uddin were also present with her in the press briefing.

Matowara Begum further complained that, “(her son was) been threatened with (death by) crossfire. Sources from various news outlets have reported that Al-Amin has been shot in both his legs.”

She further said,” More than 30 hours have passed after the incident. I have searched Rangpur Jail, the court, Kotwali thana, Mithapukur thana and the medical college hospital among many other places. I have found no trace of my son or my daughter-in-law.”

Expressing anguish and dismay at the severe police brutality and torture upon her son, she said,”I want my innocent son and daughter-in-law back, safe and in sound health.”

To this end, she reiterated her appeal for the help of the administration and media to achieve this.

On being contacted regarding the matter, Mithapukur police station OC Robiul Hossain said,” We do not have any information of the arrest of Alamin Kabir, his wife or any household help girl.”

International human rights organizations such as the HRW have called for restraint on part of the government in an alarming rise in human rights abuses in crackdown upon opposition activists in wake of an indefinite blockade called by the opposition parties after January 5, 2014, a call reiterated by several key international players such as the United States as well.