Dhaka, Bangladesh – A British man who counterterrorism officials in Bangladesh said had confessed to planning the murders of two bloggers earlier this year, was not arrested on Tuesday as claimed by the police, eyewitnesses have told Al Jazeera.
The guard and caretaker of the block of flats – where Tawhidul Rahman, 58, had been living with his sister and sick mother since returning from London two years ago – told Al Jazeera on Thursday that Rahman was taken away by law enforcement officers on the afternoon of May 28, nearly three months ago.
Later that day, Rahman’s sister, cardiologist Nasera Begum, filed a written complaint with the local police station alleging that detective branch police had taken her brother away from their family home.
A similar allegation was also made in a criminal case filed with the police.
Begum also wrote a letter to the British High Commission on June 3, informing them of her brother’s alleged abduction, and asking for assistance.
According to his sister, Rahman’s whereabouts remained unknown for nearly three months until earlier this week when officers from the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) presented him and two other men in front of the media, alleging that they were members of the self-professed Islamist group, the Ansarullah Bangla Team.
The other two detained men, Sadek Ali alias Mithu, 28, and Aminul Mollik, 35, who appeared in court with Rahman on Wednesday, said that they had also been picked up on different dates in May by law enforcement authorities, with both claiming to have been tortured.
Mufti Mahmud Khan, an RAB spokesperson, denied that Rahman had been detained previously.
“What we have said to the press is the reality,” he said. “Many times criminals give similar statements. This is the tactics of the criminals. They flee away from their families,” Khan told Al Jazeera.
Odhikhar, a human rights organisation, said that such disappearances were increasingly common in Bangladesh with law enforcement officials failing to bring people they detain to court within 24 hours, as the law requires.
“There are allegations from the victims’ families that their family members are kept illegally in detention, effectively disappeared, with no-one knowing where they were for weeks or months, and then suddenly police ‘arresting them’,” said Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of Odhikar.
“There are also cases of people never reappearing.”
At a RAB news conference on Tuesday, officials claimed that Rahman had been picked up outside a well-known kebab restaurant in the country’s capital, Dhaka, in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
The officials said that during the subsequent 12 hours, when the British IT worker was in their custody, he admitted to having planned the murder of the Bangladeshi-origin US citizen Avijt Roy in Dhaka in February, and Ananta Bijoy Das in Sylhet in early May.
Since the beginning of the year, four bloggers have been hacked to death with machetes by self-proclaimed Islamist groups, apparently on account of their critical writings on Islam.
The Ansarullah Bangla Team had earlier claimed responsibility for the deaths of Roy and Das through online statements.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia
Tawhidul’s sister rejected outright the possibility that her brother was involved in any killings.
“He is a quiet pious man. He is also very ill and was diagnosed in the UK with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There is no way he could have planned these murders. He rarely went out of the flat,” she said.
Begum said that her brother returned to Bangladesh in May 2013 when his mother fell ill.
Maher Ali, the security guard of the building where Tawhidul’s family lived, told Al Jazeera that Rahman was taken away from the building by four men in civilian dress on May 28.
“Four men entered the gate and asked me to go with them to the flat where Tawhidul Rahman lives,” he said.
Ali then called the caretaker of the building to see what was going on.
“I went to the flat, but I was not let into the flat,” the caretaker, Swapon Barua, said.
“I then went downstairs and using the intercom phoned up, and asked [Tawhidul Rahman] who these men were and he said that they were from the administration and DB [detective branch]. I told him to call his sister,” Barua said.
Nasera says that she received a call when she was at work.
“My brother said that some people had come for him,” Begum said.
“I said let me speak to them and this man then told me that my brother would be taken away for half an hour for interrogation.
“I said no, don’t take him anywhere, He is ill. I then asked him [the officer] who he was, but he hung up the phone.”
On Wednesday, the magistrate court remanded all three men in police custody for seven days for questioning.
Before the remand order, ALM Kamal Uddin, Rahman’s lawyer, told the court that his client had been illegally detained, and submitted a copy of the complaint to the police.
“The magistrate did not say anything about this. He kept quiet,” the lawyer said.
A spokesperson for the British High Commission said she was unable to make any comment about correspondence received by the commission.
“All I can say is that we are providing consular assistance to a British citizen,” she said.
In September last year, another Bangladeshi-origin British man was arrested over allegations that he had come to Bangladesh to recruit people for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
His family also claimed that he was detained by the police one week before the police said he had been arrested.
“What I want to know is where was my brother for 81 days, after he was taken from his home?” Wahidur Raham Delta, younger brother of Tawhidul, asked.