Thursday, November 5, 2009

Human Rights Defenders - Mr. F M Abdur Razzak

Human rights defender Abdur Razzak and a colleague, Shankar Kumar Dhali were arrested by five police officers on the morning of 3rd November 2008. They were arrested without warrants, and taken to the Paikgachha police station in Khulna district, south western Bangladesh.

Born in the south of Bangladesh in 1967, Razzak is a law graduate and is presently working as a lawyer’s assistant. He graduated from Southeast University, Dhaka in 2001. Prior to his arrest he supplemented his income by editing a fortnightly newspaper, Gonomichhil, which has published many stories critical of the police and judges, as well as the bribery prevalent in the country.

After being informed of his arrest, his family members went to the police station, arriving at about 11am. They asked Razzak if he had been tortured by the police while in custody. His swollen face gave them the answer they feared. Also his shirt had been taken and he was made to sit on the floor of the cell.

It became evident that Razzak had upset someone with his critical reporting when his wife, Rahima, was told by the Officer-in-Charge of the station that he was under pressure from the court to arrest him. One month earlier a Magistrate had announced in an open court that if anyone were to arrest Abdur Razzak he would issue a warrant of arrest without any delay or hesitation.

The families of Razzak and his companion canvassed anyone they thought might help them to convince the police to release the men. Their rationale was simple; if the police had no case against them they should be released. But more importantly, if there was, in fact, a case against the men they should not be ill-treated or tortured. With Razzak being the only breadwinner, Rahima had to borrow money from her relatives. She also sent her three young children to stay with her sister, so that she was free to visit the police station and other places as necessary. When she was not running other errands, Rahima spent her time outside the police station in fear that something would happen to her husband. Even visiting her husband required the payment of a bribe to the officers.

It transpired that Razzak had been arrested due to his alleged involvement in an abduction case. The police were ordered to conduct inquiries on the 22nd October but even 10 days later, nothing had been done. While in custody Razzak was beaten and publicly humiliated (he was made to walk to and from court in handcuffs with his arms held out in front on him). Huge sums of money were repeatedly demanded from Rahima and other members of the family which they had no choice but to pay in order to protect him from further torture. She also had to prepare his meals, as the police would not provide any food, and then bribe the officers to allow him to eat.

Finally the police investigation in the abduction case started moving and it was found that the young girl who had supposedly been abducted had, in fact, run away from home. Rahima then had to pay for the police to take the girls statement. The payments included transportation costs and food for the officers. She was able to raise the money by selling the little jewelry she had left. Eventually, after a final bribe to a Senior Inspector the abduction case was deemed to be false and after several court appearances was withdrawn in January 2009. At that time Razzak was suffering from a water-borne disease contracted in jail. Rahima was also sick, due to prolonged stress and fatigue. Later, in February 2009, the court dismissed the case as the charge of abduction was proven false.

It says a great deal for Abdur Razzak that despite his ordeal he continues to work on human rights issues. In Bangladesh the tarnishing of individual’s reputation is another problem. In Razzak’s case, his reputation as an honest human rights defender was affected by the many unfounded rumours regarding the causes and circumstances of his arrest and detention. F.M. Abdur Razzak is the Director of the Human Rights Development Centre (HRDC) based in Khulna and is now the editor of the Pakhik Ganomisil Newspaper. He is currently undergoing an internship with the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong.

(Text by Stewart Sloan)

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