There are fears over the whereabouts of a popular Islamic speaker in Bangladesh who has been missing for three days.
Sheikh Abu Taha Adnan, 31, went missing at midnight on Thursday while he was on his way to Dhaka from Rangpur, which is around 250km away.
Sheikh Adnan’s family have complained that Darussalam and Mirpur police stations did not accept to investigate his disappearance and local media have not reported the case. This has raised concerns that he may have been forcibly disappeared by the authorities.
His wife Sabekun Nahar told BBC Bangla that Sheikh Adnan left Rangpur for Dhaka on Thursday afternoon.
She said: “The last conversation I had with him at 2:36pm was when he said he was approaching. He was in Gabtali at that time. Then when I rang his phone was off up until 3am.”
She said he was accompanied by three other colleagues, including the driver, at the time of the disappearance but nobody has been found so far.
Sheikh Adnan has a large following on YouTube and Facebook although his accounts appear to have been taken down. He is not known for strident criticism of the Bangladeshi authorities but he has been very critical of the Gulf normalisation moves with Israel.
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The BBC contacted the Dar es Salaam and Mirpur police stations on the basis of allegations made by Sheikh Adnan’s family but the officer-in-charge of Mirpur police station declined to comment.
But Tofail Ahmed, the officer-in-charge of Dar es Salaam police station, admitted that they had not accepted any case.
“We are not sure where he went missing from. We don’t know if he went missing from Gabtoli,” he said. In that case, there may be a case in Rangpur from where he left, or where he lives in Dhaka.”
Last year a joint statement by 12 prominent human rights groups condemned Bangladesh security forces and law enforcement agencies for continuously committing enforced disappearances with impunity, targeting journalists, activists and government critics.
“From January 1, 2009 to July 31, 2020, at least 572 people have been reported forcibly disappeared by security forces and law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh,” the statement said. “While some were eventually released, shown arrested or discovered killed by security forces and law enforcement agencies in so-called ‘crossfire’ encounters, the whereabouts of many of them remain unknown.
“Enforced disappearance – the deprivation of liberty by agents of the state and concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the person in custody – is strictly prohibited under international law. Despite consistent and credible evidence of their occurrence, the Bangladesh government continues to deny its unlawful practice of enforced disappearances. Access to justice is systematically denied to victims and their families.
“Enforced disappearance is part of the ruling party’s ongoing crackdown on freedom of speech. Disappearance, or threats of disappearance, is used to silence critics and repress the opposition…
“Bangladesh government authorities have failed to respond to the repeated calls from families of the disappeared for investigations into the enforced disappearance of their loved ones. Victims and their families are met with repeated obstacles to legal redress, including police refusal to file cases and threats to drop cases.
“This is exacerbated for members of the opposition and those who criticize the incumbent government and the ruling party. Families of victims of enforced disappearances face serious threats and harassment by government authorities when they protest such unlawful treatment and injustice or when they seek to determine the whereabouts of their loved ones. Meanwhile, law enforcement enjoys a culture of impunity, perpetuated by the ruling party’s refusal to acknowledge the occurrence of enforced disappearances or hold security forces accountable.
“The Awami League-led government’s persistent denial that enforced disappearances occur in Bangladesh and its refusal to credibly investigate the fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons is an abdication of responsibility to address this serious violation of human rights.”