Christian human rights activist abducted and tortured in Bangladesh
by William Gomes
A group of men, perhaps from military intelligence, threatened him. They also accused him that he had been corrupted by Pakistani intelligence and the opposition to discredit the government and the military. William Gomes, a Muslim convert to Christianity, works for Asian Human Rights Commission. He also runs a humanitarian organisation called Christian Development Alternative.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – On 21 May, men in a dark car abducted and tortured William Gomes, a Muslim convert to Christianity. He is a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the founder of a humanitarian organisation called Christian Development Alternative (CDA). He was stripped, forced on the ground and interrogated for almost five hours. His abductors, who include a native English speaker, accused him of being in touch with Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) and getting kickbacks “to harm the Bangladeshi army”. He was also accused of getting money to discredit Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The men who held him threatened to kill him and his family. When Gomes promised to quit the AHRC, he was released. He is certain that the people who abducted him were from Bangladeshi intelligence. This is his story.
On Saturday morning, 21 May, I went out to work. On my way home, I came near the bus station in Sayedabad when a man, bigger and taller than me, stopped me and told me to follow him to his car.
I remember when he pointed it to me: a black Mitsubishi Pajero, with tinted windows. I went with him, thinking he was lost or needed help. Instead, when I got near the car, a door opened and before I knew it, I was shoved in as someone inside grabbed and pulled me into the vehicle.
The two men sat on either side of me and asked if I was William Gomes. After I said yes, I found myself blindfolded with a tape. They also put a hood on my head and handcuffed me with my hands behind my back.
They took my bag, mobile phone, wallet and all other personal effects. And then pointed two guns to my head, telling me not to make a sound or they would fire.
“We have orders to kill you,” one of the two said. Then the guy to my left told the driver to go to “headquarters”.
As the jeep started to drive off, I heard a phone ring. One of my kidnappers said, “Sir, Sir! We got him.” Then the vehicle sped off.
After 40 minutes, we stopped. Two of the men pulled me out of the car, threatening to torture me if I didn’t walk on my own. We went up to the ninth floor. I heard one of them push nine. They threw me into a room and took off my clothes. I heard one of them say, “He’s circumcised but he’s got a Christian name.”
They started pushing to the ground. “Do as Muslims do when they pray!” I didn’t know what they wanted me to do. Then, one hit my head against the floor and threatened me. “If you try getting up, we’ll stick boiled eggs up your ass. And we’ll do the same to your fathers.” By fathers, they meant members of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
Suddenly, a man stopped talking and starting shouting, “Sir, Sir! He’s ready.” Ready for what?
I did not know what to expect. I was completely naked, cold and bleeding from the nose. At a certain point, the men started asking me many questions like: When was the last time I left Bangladesh or did I ever go to Hong Kong.
They also mentioned (opposition leader) Khaleda Zia. Questions came one after the other. They started to ask me about money. “When was the last time I met Khaleda Zia? Where’s the money? Where are the 10 million taka they gave me? How much money Zia gave me for the Mishu case?”
I told them that I had never met Khaleda Zia. “I am a liberal,” I tried to explain to them. “I don’t have ties with rightwing people.”
My head was hurting like heck. At one point, they asked me when I went to Kashmir. They accused me of meeting agents from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, the ISI, in order to destroy Bangladesh.
“I don’t know anyone from the ISI,” I tried to tell them, “I’m a human rights activist; I only work for the AHRC.”
Their response was to say that the AHRC “is the greatest enemy of the country and the army. Didn’t its chief say he didn’t want the army in government? How dare that son of a dog speak against the army?”
They kept accusing me. One of them accused me of being involved with Pakistani intelligence, that I was getting kickbacks from them and the Asian Human Rights Commission mi to organise attacks and discredit the army and the prime minister.
I was still on the ground. I heard a mobile phone ring again, and someone saying that they were almost done. Then a foreigner, a native English speaker, asked me for information about my chief, the chairman of the AHRC, about when he would be back in Bangladesh.
Several times, they mentioned the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB, a special police unit accused of abductions and murders). I am certain these men were from RAB’s legal branch.
I did not know what to tell him. I was thirsty and asked for some water. I drank something warm. I think they drugged me or gave me something strange.
They started listing all the times I was allegedly corrupted. They then mentioned the Christian Development Alternative (CDA), my humanitarian organisation.
“Why do you care about Bangladeshi in Indian jails? Why are you trying to discredit the good work of our government and its good relations with India?”
All I did, through my organisations, was to write letters to the appropriate authorities in order to solve some human rights problems.
At some point, the foreigner said, “He is a terrorist. Let us kill him and feed him to the Magur Machh (a flesh-eating fish).”
At that moment, I got really scared and started to beg them to let me go. I was crying and told them, “Please, I have two little children. Forgive me! I’ll quit my job!” I promised them that I would no longer collaborate with the Asian Human Rights Commission.
Instead, they threatened me again. “You won’t quit the AHRC. Now you go home, and behave as nothing happened and don’t tell anyone about our meeting.”
Suddenly, it was all over. They took me and gave me back my clothes. I was still blindfolded and handcuffed when they put me into a car and took me back where they had abducted me. The same man from the morning, after returning all my personal effects, told me, “We are keeping an eye on you. If you open your mouth, I’ll make sure you’re devoured by the magur machh.” He then disappeared.
As for me, I am living in fear for my family and myself.