On Sunday 27 December 2020, Salman al-Azami wrote on Facebook, “Today is the 62nd birthday of my brother Amaan Azmi, a former Brigadier General of Bangladesh Army. I seek your prayer for a safe return of my oppressed brother”.
The story may sound very strange to non-Bangladeshis, but this is no surprise to Bangladeshi people. By now, they are accustomed to regularly hearing about bizarre and unimaginable events such as enforced disappearances, murder and torture in police custody, judicial punishment targeting the opposition leaders and activists and so on.
Amaan’s ‘crime’ was being the eldest son of Professor Ghulam Azam, the former President of Bangladesh Jama’at-e-Islami. His father died in custody, being convicted by a sham and politically motivated trial, described by many international observers as a ‘miscarriage of justice’.
Amaan Azmi was not the only one being kidnapped by the Bangladeshi law enforcement forces at that time. Barrister Mir Ahmad (nickname Arman), son of Mir Quasem Ali, another Jama’at leader, and Hummam Quader, son of Salahuddin Quader, a leader of Bangladesh Nationalist Party, were abducted by the police as well during that time.
Both Mir Quasem Ali and Salahuddin Quader were executed by hanging by that Bangladeshi tribunal, facing the charges of so-called war crimes.
When the international community became aware of that ongoing judicial killing process, Bangladesh government found that their sons were writing in social media and communicating with several international human rights organisations.
On 9 August 2016, a group of people snatched Mir Ahmad from his house. Amaan Azmi was taken from him home on 22 August 2016. Hummam Quader was picked up earlier on 3 August 2016 by a group of unidentified men from the main gate of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Dhaka.
Among the three, only Hummam Quader resurfaced in a Dhaka street after seven months. According to widespread assumption, he was released after paying a large amount of ransom money and with the condition of not saying anything. Since then, he has been claiming amnesia and traumatic disorder.
It is now more than four years that Amaan and Arman’s relatives know nothing about their whereabouts. They are among many other opposition activists and leaders, picked up by the government forces and disappeared. The regime in Bangladesh has adopted this following the footsteps of former dictators from South America and Eastern Europe.
Although some victims in Bangladesh have disappeared even for eight or nine years now, their family members still hope for the return of their loved ones. They still go to different places when they hear news about finding unidentified dead bodies that match the description of their sons or husbands but to find otherwise so far.
It is hard to understand their feelings, though. Are they happy to find out that the dead person is not their family member? Or, are they heartbroken again in anticipating for a wait that seems to have no end?