Saturday, November 24, 2012

Exclusive: Wife of abducted witness speaks out

Aruti Rani Bali, the wife of Sukhranjan Bali outside
her village house
Last weekend I went down to the district of Pirojpur in Bangladesh to, amongst other things, meet the family of Sukhoranjan Bali who is alleged to have been abducted by law enforcement agencies outside the International Crimes Tribunal.

In the village where she lives, we found Bali's wife Aruti Rani Bali, and their daughter, Monica Mondal.

Monica lives at her in-law's house in Barisol and had come over to her mother's house when she heard what had happened to her father. It was not clear exactly when she arrived.

Bali's son had left the village after the abduction of his father and gone, the family thinks, out of fear to Mongla port.

Below is a slightly edited transcript of a videoed interview. It is edited simply to avoid repetition or irrelevant non-sequiturs in the answers. Everything stated of any relevance is in the transcript. The interview was done in the presence of myself and an assistant who has, like me, no connections of any kind with the Jamaat or any of the newspapers supportive of Jamaat/BNP. The interview was in Bangla, and below is a translation. The wife generally answered the questions but but when the daughter did so, it is made clear in the transcript below.

The interview is important in that it seems to help corroborate a number of issues relating to the alleged abduction of Bali: (a) that Bali had gone to Dhaka in the first days of November (b) that he was on his way to to the tribunal on the 5th morning (since she says that he called him at that time) (c) that he was willingly going to give evidence on behalf of Sayedee (d) that he has been missing since then - the family have not received any calls from him on the 5th.

Please see further comments at the end of the interview. 

Background: Bali was originally a prosecution witness, who apparently did not want to give evidence to the tribunal, and ran away to India at around the time that the trial started (November 2011), then came back - and then appears to have agreed to give evidence for the defense, to the effect that his brother's death was committed by the Pakistan military.

Distraught wife of Bali
Wife: Where is my husband, bring him home. He went to the court and then he was picked up ….. My son out of fear left home, maybe to gngla port to work … People say that my husband is no more. He used to say I will speak the truth at the court that my brother was killed by the Pakistani army. Where is he, where is he? ….

Q: When did Bali go to Dhaka
A: (Wife): Nov 3rd. On the 5th he went to court

Q: Where was he on the fourth, who did he stay with?
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Did he go alone?
A: (Wife): I don’t know that.

Q (to daughter): To check that it was Nov 3rd
A: (Wife): yes. It was raining that day, it was Tuesday.
A: (Wife): no it was Monday.
A: (Daughter): Oh, yes, it was Monday.

Q: Were you threatened/intimidated after the incident?
A: (Wife): Yes, people came and I asked who those people were. And then the OC (officer in charge of police station) came.

Q: Who intimidated you? The local people?
A: (Daughter) I wasn’t here. Mother was here.
A (Wife): I want my Husband.

Q: Who intimidated you?
A: (Wife): The OC came.

Q: What did the OC told you? Did he tell you not to speak to anyone? Did he take your signature in any paper?
A: (Wife): No he wanted us to sign a blank paper but we denied.

Q: When did he come?
A: (Wife): The next day, 6th of November.

Q: Are you sure that Bali went to Dhaka on Nov 3rd. Did you see a calendar?
A (Sister): We had communication over phone. Since our father is not home we have to check the dates properly

Q: Did he have a mobile phone?
A (sister): yes

Q: Is it switched off now?
A (sister): Yes, it is switched off

Q: Did the OC from the Sadar Thana came? ?
A: (Wife): I am not sure. It could be from Zianager or from Shodor

Q to (Daughter): Which OC came?
A: (Wife): I don’t know. I came day before yesterday.

Q: Do you remember his name, or his face?
A: (Wife): I don’t know the name but he was fat. Neither fair nor black.

Q: Did he have a moustache?
A: (Wife): No I didn’t look at him. He wanted me to sign, but I told him don’t ask for that. We are in tension, don’t ask us to sign, I won’t be able to do that. OC asked me 'don’t you need your husband back. Do you know where he is?' Then I said yes, I must get my husband back but I will not sign. I don’t need to file a GD, find my husband.

Q: Why did he want your signature?
A: (Wife): He said that he would file a GD

Q: Why didn’t you file the GD? Filing a GD often helps as the police legally becomes responsible to investigate your husband?
A: (Wife): Oh, I didn’t do that, I didn’t understand. Now people tell me to file a GD.

Q: Filing a GD is good. Suppose someone is threatened, then people file GD.
A: (Wife): Against whom will I file a GD?

Q: If you don’t know who did it, then the police will take the GD as a complaint that your father is missing. Because it must be recorded in the book of police that this incident happened. You need to file a complaint if any one intimidates you. This GD is a complaint. You can file a GD even if you don’t know who have done this.
A: (Wife): Can I do it now?

Q: Yes you can but you need to talk to the OC
A: (Wife): I don’t have anyone do it for me. ….Will I be able to find my husband?

Q: Still there is hope, don’t lose hope so fast. Was he with [family member] in Dhaka?
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Didn’t he tell you? Didn’t he call you after going to Dhaka?
A: (Wife): Yes he called me on the day when he was going to the court on the day he went to the court to give testimony he called me. … They took away my husband from in front of the court.

Q: When did he start from Dhaka on the third? Did he start at night or in the morning? We are just trying to get a sense of the time.
A: (Wife): I heard that he was supposed to get on the bus at 2pm. He started from home on Friday.

Q: Don’t you know where he was on the next day, where did he live who did he travel to Dhaka with
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Are you sure that he did not go to the court on the 4th?
A: (Wife): Yes, I am. He went to the court on the 5th?

Q: If it was Friday, then it was Nov 2nd
A: (Wife): I don’t know, he went to Dhaka on the 3rd. It might be Saturday.

Q: So he started from home on the 3rd and he called you on 5th and told you that he was going to the court?
A: (Wife): yes, he told me that,” I’m going to the court.” He said only this and nothing else.

Q: Do you know where he got on the bus?
A: (Wife): No I don’t

Q: Who was with him?
A: (Wife): I don’t know

Q: Did he tell you why he was going to Dhaka?
A: (Wife): No he didn’t tell me earlier, but called me after reaching Dhaka. He was not at this place before going to Dhaka. He was at my sister place. He was hiding in fear?

Q: How long he had been hiding?
A: (Wife): Around a year. He is out of home from last Kartik (October/November)

Q: What do you mean? Didn’t he used to come home?
A: (Wife): No.  
Bali's daughter, Monica Mondal
Q: Where is your sister’s home?
A: (Wife): He normally stayed at my sister's place. He used to roam around here and there?

Q: Where is your sister's home?
A: (Wife): The day when he went to Dhaka he told my sister that he was going to the local market

Q: Who was he afraid of? Why was he hiding? Which party he was afraid about?
A: (Wife): Let me tell you. He was asked to testify. My brother in law was killed by the military. This is what he wanted to say. And to say this he went to Dhaka to speak this truth.

Q: Why was he afraid for the last one year?
A: (Wife): Because they wanted him to give false testimony

Q: When was he asked to do that?
A: (Wife): For a long time. … He communicated with us but didn’t come home.

Q: Where is your son?
A: (Wife): From the day when [Bali] was taken away, he went away. He was afraid that pressure would come upon him as well.

Q: Do you have any contact with your son?
A: (Wife): Yes, he has gone too far from here, but he called me over the phone. He said that he would work in a ship in mongla port. We are poor people, we have to work in order to feed ourselves. This why he told me that, “Mother, I’ll go”.

Q: Where is the ship? In Khulna?
A: (Wife): Yes, near Mongla Port.

Q: Did the OC show you any paper when he asked you to sign it?
A: (Wife): No, he just asked for signature

Crying: where is my husband ....

Q: Do you know there was another GD filed in February? [
A: (Wife): yes, when I was in a relatives house, after completing some work [at home], then the OC came and wanted our signature and I refused to give it. Then some other people signed it including my daughter. There was a blank piece of paper.

Q: Why was the GD filed, is it because he was missing?
A: (Wife): Because he was missing. The OC said that since your father cannot be found, no one knows whether he has been killed. You better file a GD.

Q: Was there anything written on that paper where you signed?
A: (Wife): No, it was blank
A: (Wife): (sister): No it was blank

Q: How many people signed [the paper]?
A: (Wife): 4 including the daughter

Q: Did people from the tribunal come to your home?
A: (Wife): Yes, they came many times

Q: Did Bali talk to them
A: (Wife): No, he was never home

Q: Did the tribunal people want Bali to testify against Sayedee?
A: (Wife): They didn’t say anything, they said ‘where is he?’, they wanted to know where the killings took place? Which people were there?

Q: Didn’t they tell him to testify?
A: (Wife): They said that they wanted him to testify but they didn’t get him to do it?

Q: When did the problem start first?
A: (Wife): Just after that, when the case was filed against Sayedee.

Q: When did he flee? Is it around 1 year?
A: (Wife): For around a year, from Kartik (from Mid Nov). Then he want to India in Poush (December/ January), he came back on Falgun (February/March)

Q: So Poush, Magh, Falgun? He was there for three months?
A: (Wife): He came back in Choitro (Mid-March to Mid April). He want there to see his brother who later died. ...

Q: You said a very important thing that he was afraid after filling the case, and the tribunal asked him to testify, then he fled the house. But the tribunal people didn’t try to force him to testify, right?. He was not home. Do you remember if he had told you anything?
A: (Wife): No. Before he want to India, I heard that his brother had a heart attack so he went to India. His brother had little children, he asked them to come stay in our house, but they didn’t

Q: Did the investigators [try to] force him to testify?
A: (Wife): First when they came to do video, we didn’t know that a case has been filed . Then my mother died and there were many people at my place the next morning. Some people told us that a case has been filed regarding the killing of my brother in law. Then my husband told some people – including a BNP person - that his brother was killed by Pakistan army.

Q: Is it after filing of the case?
A: (Wife): Yes. He told people that his brother was killed by Pak army. He was not shot. He was killed with a bayonet. He wanted to speak this truth, and welcomed danger on his own life.

Q: Have the jamaat people, supporters of Sayedee, come to your house?
A: (Wife): Yes, they came only once, then never came again?

Q: didn’t they come since when he is missing?
A: (Wife): No. They came only once.

Q: When?
A: (Wife): Many days ago

Q: Is it after filing of case
A: (Wife): Yes, with the BNP person. He won’t lie.

Q: Did he tell you that “I’ve come to testify”. What did Bali say to you when he spoke on the 5th?
A: (Wife): He just said that I am going to the court, he didn’t say anything else.

Q: What did he say when he reached Dhaka? Was he happy?
A: (Wife): He said I am in Dhaka now. I asked who did you go with? He did not answer clearly. I was angry at the matter and told him “Why you’ve gone to Dhaka?”

Q: So he did not tell you when he was going to Dhaka? He called you from Dhaka?
A: (Wife): Yes, he told me [from Dhaka], but earlier he said that he would go to Dhaka and speak the truth.

Q: As you mentioned the BNP and Jamaat people came after the case was filed, did they tell him that “you should say this in the court” or something like that?
A: (Wife): They came to how his brother was killed. He told that his brother was killed by the military.

Q: Didn’t they tell him to say any particular thing in the court?
A: (Wife): They also did video recording and showed that on TV and published in the news paper.

Q: Did they tell him to say any particular thing in the court?
A: (Wife): The Awami league people told him so. … But he went there to testify in favor of Sayedee. The Awami league is not supposed to say like that. The case was filed by the Awami league but he was going to testify otherwise. This is why he didn’t want to be a witness.

Q: Did the Jamaat/BNP supporters offer any benefits/money?
A: (Wife): No he didn’t tell me something like that. He was a very simple man and that is why he wanted to say the truth. What he knew. ... Brother bring my husband back, I don’t want anything else. We are very poor people. …

Q: Do you have any relatives around your place where you husband stayed when hiding?
A: (Wife): No, no. Those places are too far from here.

Q: isn’t there anyone from Pirojpur.
A: (Wife): No, they live far away.

Q: Did he come for a night or several hours since leaving home last November
A: (Wife): No
A: (Wife): (sister): No, [He did not come] to the in-laws house

Q: Did you contact over the phone
A: (Wife): Yes, he called from India. He asked me to go to India but I did not go

Q: Where did he used to stay in India, in West Bengal? Siliguri or at which place? I mean where his brother used to live?
A: (Wife): I don’t know. He was a very simple man. He didn’t tell me anything in detail. He was worried because his brother died.

Crying: where is my husband ... We don’t have contact in the last ten to 12 days, but earlier when I was ill he used to call ten times a day .. Are you still alive? When will you come back? Please bring my husband back ....

Q: How do you know for certain that he was picked up by police?
A: (Wife): I watched it on the TV I saw his back and people also told me about it. Also saw that the word 'police' was written on the white car.

Q: Is there any possibility that Sayedee supporters picked him up?
A: (Wife): Yes, as he was going to speak the truth, can’t you realise yourself. He refused to testify when the AL men asked him. He wanted to say the truth. He wanted to say that his brother was killed by the Pak army. So it is clear.

Q: How long have you been living in this area?
A: (Wife): After my marriage in the 80s, from 8 or 10 years after the 1971 war

Q: Is it not surprising Bali being from a Hindu family, that he would support Sayedee [a Jamaati] in his trial. I’m saying this as generally it’s rare.
A: (Wife): [no clear answer] My brain is not working.

1. The mother was very distraught about her missing husband, and broke down many times during the interview. There is little doubt that she is in a terrible state and genuinely believes her husband to be missing

2. The interview seems to corroborate a number of issues relating to the alleged abduction of Bali. (a) that Bali had gone to Dhaka (b) that he was on his way to to the tribunal on the 5th morning when he called her (c) that he was willingly going to give evidence on behalf of Sayedee (d) that he has been missing since then - the family have not received any calls from him on the 5th.

3. The wife believes that he was abducted by those who are against Sayedee.

4. There is confusion about the dates when Bali left Dhaka and she has no information about who he went with or with whom he stayed

This is a copy of the page of the register on the 4th
November. The third name from the bottom of the page
is 'Atis Sen' written in Bangla. Next to it, is 'Md Hasanul
Banna' which is the name of the defense lawyer who brought
Bali into the court on that day
5. She says that her husband did not go to court on the 4th - though Jamaat lawyers claim that he was in court on that day (i.e day before abduction). There is though other information to support the claim that he was in court on that day: (a) an application about him giving evidence to the tribunal was to be heard that day, the day before the tribunal was to hear the prosecution closing arguments, and so it would have been appropriate for him to have been there; (b) although Bali's name is not in the register, the lawyer who brought him into the tribunal, Md Hasanul Banna Sohag says that on the 4th he did obtain a pass for him but under another name, Atis Sen just so that the court authorities did not know he was there. I have seen the page in the register on the 4th where Sohag has written his own name and there is the name of another person (who is not a lawyer or otherwise known as a person who come to the tribunal) 

7. It is interesting that a police OC came to the wife's house on 6 November, the day after the alleged abduction to get her signature for a GD on .

(a) on the night of the 5th November, Sayedee's lawyers tried to file a GD in Dhaka but the police refused to allow them to do it. So, why did the police come to the family seeking a GD?
(b) a visit by the police to seek this GC is an implied acknowledgement that the state accepted Bali had gone missing - in contrast to the position of the Attorney General (at the High Court during the Habeas Corpus proceedings) and the tribunal prosecution at its press conference which suggested that nothing had happened.
(c) the police simply wanted the wife's signature on a 'blank' piece of paper which would have allowed the police to write on it whatever the police wanted.

8. Previously, according to the interview, in February 2012 the OC had come to the house and asked the wife to sign a blank piece of paper so he could write a GD. She had refused - but the daughter and other relatives did. The fact that the police came to the house to get the family to sign a GD suggests that the police were more interested in getting a GD filed than the family.  

[It should be noted that it has been suggested that there is a well known practice in Bangladesh that police and others often persuade/intimidate people to sign blank pieces of paper on which false allegations are then written and filed as a a GD so the daughter and wife's comments are perfectly reasonable.]

A. in the final paragraph, from saying that there is a 'widespread practice' of obtaining signatures on blank pieces of paper, it has been changed to saying that 'it has been suggested that there is a well known practice.'

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