"My son, who is nearly six years old now, has never seen his father’s face."

Farzeena Akhter is just one of hundreds of people in Bangladesh who are bereft as they await news of loved ones who went missing in mysterious circumstances. Most families blame state agencies for the enforced disappearance of their relatives, accusations the government denies. Mothers, fathers, siblings and children represented by Mayer Daak (Mothers' Call) have long sought answers from authorities on the whereabouts of those who are missing, but in most cases find they are screaming into a void as days turn to months and years.

The majority of those who have gone missing over the last few years are members of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), as well as activists whose work has been critical of the ruling Awami League of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. A report released in April by the International Federation for Human Rights says civil society groups have documented 507 cases of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh from the beginning of 2009 to the end of 2018, which spans Hasina's time in office. While in 286 of those cases people returned home alive, in 62 other cases people were found dead and another 159 people remain missing. In most cases suspicion for the disappearances falls on the police, Detective Branch and members of the elite Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

The United Nations and Human Rights Watch are among groups urging the government to take action to stop enforced disappearances but even prominent ministers have been dismissive, calling the reports a "smear campaign" against the Awami League. Meanwhile, all the affected families can do is band together and push for answers.

On Thursday's episode of The Stream we'll consider the impact of these disappearances on relatives left behind and what the apparent targeting of the political opposition means for democracy in Bangladesh. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Sanjida Islam 
Director, Mayer Daak 

Tasneem Khalil @tasneem

Debbie Stothard @DebbieStot 
Secretary General, International Federation for Human Rights

Read more:
Anatomy of a Disappearance, and a Reappearance – The Wire
Disappeared without trace: Bangladesh’s agony – Union of Catholic Asian News

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.