The British High Commission in Dhaka has confirmed that a British Bangladeshi man, who was picked up from his parked car in Dhaka nearly four months ago and who has since then remained ‘missing’, was detained by Bangladesh government authorities and is in their custody.
The high commission told The Wire that Yasin Mohammad Abdus Samad Talukder, a 35-year-old Physics teacher, was “detained in July 2016” and that the foreign office is “continuing to press the Bangladesh authorities for consular access.”
The British government statement supports the claim made by Talukder’s family that the teacher was taken from Kakoli bus stand on the morning of July 14 and driven away in a black microbus by officers, which eye-witnesses said belonged to state authorities.
Five months earlier, the police had accused Talukder of being amongst a group of Islamic militants who were planning to take part in a terrorist act.
The Bangladesh authorities, however, continue to deny any involvement in his detention and reject the claim that Talukder is in their custody.
“I have no information on this. It is not possible. We cannot hold someone for that long. It is impossible,” said Lt Col. Mahbubul Alam, the director of operations of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) – the paramilitary body, which his family members believe was responsible for the detention.
Talukder’s mother Suraya Talukder, who believes that her son is being falsely suspected of having militant links, has pleaded for his release.
“As the authorities have him in custody, they must release him immediately or produce him in a court of law if any charges [are] to be filed against him,” she said.
Suspicions of militancy
Talukder, who was born in Saudia Arabia and earned a British citizenship through his father, studied for his O and A level exams in Bangladesh at the Islamic-minded Manarat Dhaka International School before leaving for London in 2001 to study mechanical engineering at Queen Mary’s College.
According to his mother, he was mugged in 2005 and the incident resulted in her son becoming highly religious. The following year he decided to return to Dhaka where he became a physics teacher and gave lessons at private tutorial centres.
At some point, Talukder became a person of interest to the British intelligence agencies.
His mother told The Wire that in 2011 – five years after his return to Dhaka – MI6 officers interviewed him at the British High Commission.
However, she claims that despite whatever suspicions the intelligence officers may have had, they did not find any evidence that he was involved in militancy.
“My son fully cooperated with the British government officials, and allowed them to look at his computer and e-mails,” she said. “The British government did not find anything against him.”
The Wire contacted the British High Commission for a comment on this claim but has not received a reply.
In February – in the midst of a string of attacks claimed by ISIS and an al Qaida affiliate group – Talukder was amongst over a dozen people who were named in a First Information Report that alleged he was part of a gathering of Islamic militants in Shahbagh who were planning a terrorist attack.
Also named in the case was Nibras Islam, one of the militants who attacked the Holey Artisan Bakery on July 1, and Shezan Rouf Arko, an alleged militant who was killed by the police in a counter-terrorism attack at the end of the month.
Suraya denies that her son could have been part of this gathering as throughout this period, she claims, he lived at their family home and led a normal life teaching physics. She said that her son was never in hiding or seeking to avoid arrest.
Talukder was detained two weeks after the Holey Artisan Bakery attack, which killed 20 diners, many of them foreigners.
His mother accepted that her son knew a number of people who had subsequently turned out to be militants or who had gone to Syria to join ISIS, but denies that he son is one of them.
“My son is very religious, but he is not a militant. I am very confident that my son can’t do any heinous act and the authorities have a serious misunderstanding here,” she said.
On July 14, Talukder had arranged to meet his cousin Sidrat at Kakoli bus stand at 11:30 am as they were planning to attend a wedding together.
According to a General Diary filed with the police later that day, “At 11:39 [Yasin Talukdar] called his cousin [Sidrat] to know his whereabouts and his cousin replied that he is at road 11 and will reach him in ten minutes.”
“At 11:42 the cousin got another call from Yasin where he could hear other people shouting. The conversations and shouting was not clear and Talukder was not responding to his cousin. The call went on for three minutes and then the phone disconnected suddenly. Then his cousin, Sidrat, called again and found it switched off,” it goes on to state.
Sidrat reached Kakoli bus station at 11:50 am and, according to the General Diary, he “found the car, but Yasin was not there. Sidrat talked to the people around to try and find out what happened. He found a bus ticket seller who said that Yasin was caught up in a conversation with regularly dressed people who took him into a black microbus.”
Talukder’s mother and uncle arrived at the scene in about ten minutes.
They both say that the local people told them that the RAB was responsible. “One person said, ‘This is RAB-1’s territory. We know their kind. It is RAB who has done this,” Talukder’s uncle said.
They both, however, did not accuse a law enforcement agency when they wrote their General Diary at the police station later that day.
“We had tried to lodge the GD at Benani police station, which covers the area where the incident took place, but they delayed and delayed, and would not let us do it,” the uncle said. “We were there for hours. So we then went to our local police station, and decided that to get the police to allow us to file a GD we would not mention RAB.”
After the pickup
Late at night – two days after the detention – a man who claimed to be from the Police Bureau of Investigation, a new investigative agency, came to the Talukder residence where Yasin also lived.
“He asked me all kinds of questions but when I asked him, [he] did not say anything about my son being detained,” she said. “I noticed however that the officer had a copy of my son’s biometric mobile phone re-registration form.”
Then on the night of July 21, seven days after Talukder was picked up, men from RAB came to the house. “They introduced themselves as Major Nahid and Major Masud,” his mother said. “There were also other men with them. They took all my son’s electronic equipment including his computers away with them. They did not give me any receipt.”
One amongst many
Talukder is not the first British Bangladeshi to have been secretly detained in Bangladesh.
Tawhidur Rahman, who was allegedly involved in the murder of two bloggers in early 2015, was picked up on May 28, 2015, and was shown arrested three months later in August. And in September 2014, Samiun Rahman, an alleged ISIS agent claimed that he was secretly detained for five days before the police staged a fake arrest.
The Bangladesh High Commission told The Wire that the British foreign officer does not “normally… provide consular assistance to dual nationals in the country of their other nationality” but “may make an exception to this rule if, having looked at the circumstances of the case, we consider someone particularly vulnerable.”
Since the beginning of 2016, human rights organisations and the media have reported that over 75 people – many of them belonging to opposition parties – have been picked up and secretly detained for different periods of time.
At least 15 of these men have been subsequently killed by the police in so-called ‘gun fights,’ which their families claim were staged. Another 18 people continue to remain missing including three sons of opposition leaders who were picked up in August.
Some of them have survived the illegal ordeal. In mid-October, a man whose family says was picked up from his home five months ago and was secretly detained was suddenly shown arrested by the police for the murder of the secular blogger Nazimuddin Samad in April.
Sidrat can only hope that Talukder will be amongst those secretly detained who survive rather than get killed or who never get seen again.
He told The Wire that he could not imagine Talukder being involved in militancy.
“I knew his views on ISIL and JMB,” Sidrat said. “We discussed them just the week before when I visited for Eid. He genuinely abhorred their interpretation of the religion. I find it impossible to believe he would associate himself with those people.”
Talukder’s family may, of course, be wrong on this, and Bangladesh’s state authorities could have evidence that supports their suspicions. But if so, the family says that there is a legal way of proceeding.
“What is happening now is not legal. The government has simply kidnapped him,” his mother said.