The mounting incidents of disappearance and mysterious killings in recent times have triggered a wave of anxiety and heightened political tension in Bangladesh.

The higher judiciary has already expressed grave concern over rising disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Rights groups claimed that since January 2010, over 100 persons had “disappeared” and of them 21 had been found dead.

The anxiety and political tension have become more pronounced following the mysterious disappearance of a former lawmaker and opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Organising Secretary M Eliyas Ali, along with his driver last week from Dhaka. Even senior Ministers have expressed their deep concern over such incidents.

Police and law-enforcers could not yet trace Mr. Eliyas Ali, who is one of the influential leaders in north-eastern Sylhet district, or establish what led to his disappearance from the capital on Tuesday night.

Statistics released by the rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) show that since January 2010, 100 people have become victims of “enforced disappearance”. Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission Chairman Dr. Mizanur Rahman, who demanded the government to trace him out immediately, remarked, “The incident is unacceptable. The state will be accountable to international organisations over citizen missing incidents.”

According to Odhikar, another human rights body, nine persons have reportedly “disappeared” between January and April 18. The number of “enforced disappearances” was 30 in 2011, 18 in 2010 and two in 2009, claimed the rights body.

Home Minister Shahara Khatun, who ordered the police and elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (Rab) to find his whereabouts, however, remarked that most of the victims were affiliated with criminal groups or had business or political rivalries . But rights bodies, quoting victims' families, claimed that persons claiming to be from law enforcement agencies picked up the victims, a claim strongly denied by the officials.

Grave concern

The High Court, in July 2010, had directed police officials and the Rab to take steps to trace Chowdhury Alam, another BNP leader. The Court also expressed grave concern over extrajudicial killings.

The disappearances have triggered political tension. BNP leaders and activists staged demonstrations and clashed with the police in Dhaka and other places. At least 70 people, including a dozen policemen, were injured in the fierce clashes. Many vehicles, including police cars, were also torched.

BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia has pointed the finger directly at the ruling party accusing it of foul play.

The party, along with its fundamentalist allies, has called a nationwide dawn to dusk hartal on Sunday and threatened to continue the hartal till the Hasina government concedes its demands. However, the ruling party has indicated that Mr. Ali might have gone into hiding to whip up anti-government sentiments.

Meanwhile, detective officials said they were investigating the case keeping a number of factors in mind — personal or political conflicts, financial involvement, or involvement of a “third party” to destabilise the country. The secret agencies also did not rule out that Mr. Ali himself might have gone into hiding to enhance his popularity in the party.

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