Police are yet to file a missing report, putting the government in the dock.
Inside a room full of journalists, Sabiqun Nahar's voice choked as she said: “I love him so much. Let him return to me. Or take me to him.”
Nahar was speaking before a group of journalists, one more attempt from her to find her husband — a renowned Bangladeshi Islamic preacher Md Afsanul Adnan, popularly known as Abu Taw Haa Muhammad Adnan —who has been missing along with three of his companions since June 10.
Ever since his disappearance, Bangladeshi social media has been flooded with many posts and tweets, indicating that the 31-year-old Islamic preacher might have fallen victim to Bangladesh’s string of state-sponsored enforced disappearances.
Over the past week, Nahar has frantically been running from one police station to the other in search of her husband, to no avail.
“Where will I file a case? To whom will I file a complaint? I am getting tired of walking around the police stations. No police station is taking responsibility,” said Nahar.
Nahar went to the offices of the Detective Branch of police, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) —Bangladesh’s elite police force infamous for their involvement with many enforced disappearances in the country.
She personally met the RAB chief, who told her they did not arrest Adnan.
Nahar even wrote a letter to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, seeking her intervention in finding her husband.
“I don’t know what else to do. I even don’t know what to say at a press conference… I just want my husband's safe return,” Nahar said, adding, “If he commits any crime, please show him arrested and try him under the existing law.”
Saad Hammadi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International told TRT World that disappearances of any kind are disconcerting for families.
“The Bangladeshi authorities must expeditiously investigate and disclose the whereabouts of Abu Taw Haa Muhammad Adnan and his three companions. If they are in state custody, they must be released immediately or charged with a recognisable criminal offence,” he said.
Is the government doing enough?
Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal on Wednesday told the media that law enforcement agencies are “investigating the disappearance of Adnan.”
“We are aware of the situation and looking for clues,” he said.
TRT World however contacted at least three police stations and found out that no progress in the investigations was made.
A police station under Rangpur Metropolitan Police (RPMP)—a northern city located some 300 kilometres away from the capital Dhaka where Adnan resides— has just registered a complaint of a “missing person” but that’s all. They haven’t started any investigation yet.
Nahar said she communicated last with Adnan over WhatsApp when he shared his location that showed he was in Dhaka's Gabtoli at that time.
A few moments before he went missing, Adnan called his wife to tell her two people on a motorbike were following his car. “Pray for me,” is what he last said to Nahar.
Two of the police stations—Darussalam and Pallabi—located near Dhaka’s Gabtoli refused to file the missing report.
Darussalam Police Station Officer-in-Charge Tofael Ahmed however told TRT World that they have examined CCTV footage [at Gabtoli] but found nothing so far.
Asif Shibgat Bhuiyan, a popular Bangladeshi blogger on religious issues, said, “It is difficult to say if the government is doing enough as we do not even know the nature of that abduction.”
Bhuiyan said the fact that many police stations are not willing to file the case and the “wife of the abductee had to plead for justice is worrisome.”
The crackdown on Islamists
Some human rights activists in Bangladesh however hinted that Adnan’s disappearance might be a recent case of “state-sponsored enforced disappearance.”
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), From January 1, 2009, to July 31, 2020, at least 572 people have reportedly been forcibly disappeared by security forces and law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh.
While some were eventually released or officially arrested or discovered killed by security forces and law enforcement agencies in so-called “crossfire” encounters, the whereabouts of many of them remain unknown, said the HRW report.
One Bangladeshi activist who preferred to be unnamed told TRT World that Adnan, in some of his videos, publicly criticised the current government for letting Indian intelligence agencies call shots on Bangladesh’s internal affairs.
Adnan also gave video lectures about many international geopolitical issues and talked widely about anti-Islamisation propaganda perpetrated by the Western world.
In a recent video, Adnan had called for unity of all Muslims and said, “We’ll work for the Muslim Ummah. We’re part of a family… But we’ll snatch Jerusalem from the Zionists.”
“These lectures might provoke the state security agencies who usually show disregard to the law when they deem someone as a potential threat,” claimed the human right activist.
Furthermore, the Bangladesh government in recent months has carried out a wide-scale crackdown against many Islamist preachers, especially against the preachers of Hefajat-e-Islam—the Islamist group that rapidly transformed from an Islamic advocacy platform to a political pressure group.
At least 40 of their top leaders were arrested because of their involvement with an anti-Modi protest which jolted Bangladesh in late March.
As a result, speculations continue to circulate that Adnan might be abducted by the state as a part of its crackdown against Islamists.
“I would hope that is not the case,” said the blogger Bhuiyan.
“But this is again what happens when there is a lack of trust between authorities and people. Every failure paves the way for more speculation and conspiracy theories.”