- One Year After Disappearing
By Abdul H. Azeez
It’s been one year since the abduction of human rights activist Pattani Razeek. On February 11, 2010, whilst on a field visit to Kurunegala, Razeek reportedly voluntarily got into a white van and was never seen again.
The circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Razeek are both strange and intriguing, for instance, for days after he disappeared, family and colleagues would get SMSs from his mobile number telling them that he was safe in Kurunegala. The messages were followed up by calls soon enough, also from Razeek’s phone, but this time claiming to be from his supposed abductors. The trip Razeek made to Kurunegala was rather unusual as he usually does not engage in such field trips, according to Jansila Majeed a colleague who approved his vehicle for the trip.
As for his abductors, they were even stranger. They would call his colleagues at the Community Trust Fund, the organisation he was a founder and trustee of, and accuse them of mishandling organisational funds. They called a number of his female associates and accused them of having illicit relations with him, and they also called his family on February 23, 2010 and demanded Rs 20 million as ransom.
His family, even though not very rich, still came through with the money, thanks to the help of many friends and members of CTF but even more strangely, even before they could even communicate to his abductors that they had the money, all contact ceased; they never heard from Razeek or his abductors ever again.
The Plot Thickens
The abductors, however, made some early mistakes that managed to provide some clues as to who they were. The kidnappers were using Razeek’s phone for all communications to his family and associates, this phone line eventually got disconnected because no one paid the bills. His abductors then purchased three more SIMs using Razeek’s national identification card number and in a remarkable move right out of a spy movie, asked his son to secretly come to a pre-arranged location in order to collect the SIMs.
His son, Razeek Riskan Mohammed relating the incident, said that he then proceeded to the Wattala Mosque on April 27, 2010 and found two SIM cards under a tree there. He told The Sunday Leader that the SIMs had been wrapped in a small piece of cloth. Upon contacting the abductors, who had hung on to the third SIM for that reason, he was told to give the second SIM to Mustafa Nihmath, a former founder and trustee general of CTF.
Nihmath refused the SIM, saying that he wanted no part in the proceedings. But Riskhan continued talking to his father’s abductors via the SIM he had received until they finally cut off contact in mid September. “The last call we received was a demand for Rs 20 million cash. We managed to negotiate the sum down to Rs 10 million”. The family collected the funds from well wishers and friends, but no word was received from the kidnappers again.
Previously on April 3, another set of instructions led Razeek’s son-in-law Zainudeen to the Gunasinghapura mosque where he found objects that belonged to Razeek such as his glasses, drivers licence and motorbike insurance papers under a carpet.
Meanwhile, the family had lodged complaints both in the Mundal and Kurunegala police stations. CTF had also lodged a complaint at the Puttalam police. One of the first things that was done was to put a trace on the SIM card that was calling Riskhan. The number was eventually traced to a phone (EMI number 352880100917420) belonging to one Shahabdeen Naushard of 414A, Nagawillawwa, as indicated by the police report concerning the case. This led to the police naming Naushard as the chief suspect.
All attempts to arrest Naushard have failed so far however. He initially applied for anticipatory bail citing reasons that reliable sources say included the fact the he could not get away from his job responsibilities working for Minister Rishard Bathiudeen. He had also cited potential damage to his reputation as grounds for requesting anticipatory bail.
Minister Rishard Bathiudeen told The Sunday Leader that he no longer worked with Naushard since his portfolio changed from the Ministry of Resettlement, adding that any claims Naushard is making on the petition alleging that Bathiudeen needed his work were fabricated.
No grounds for bail
A senior lawyer told The Sunday Leader that anticipatory bail by precedent can only be applied for if there are exceptional circumstances in support of it. In cases where the non-arrest of the suspect can cause public unrest, and especially if the suspect is wanted based on sufficient evidence then the court cannot award anticipatory bail. He cited precedents given by cases featuring individuals such as Prabath Ediriweera, Ravi Karunanayake and Thilanga Sumathipala.
Naushard’s application for bail was overturned by the Magistrate’s Court and is now being contested in the High Courts. The lawyer representing the family of Razeek, Lakshan Dias, told The Sunday Leader that the family was requesting court permission in order to be a part of the hearing in the anticipatory bail case. “We are intervening using the Criminal Procedure Code Section 260 and Judicial Administration Act Section 41 so that we can assist the courts and intervene in the case as the aggrieved party.”
The bail petitioners were given time until March 23, 2011 to formulate their response to the request made by the aggrieved party.
Strange goings on
Many staff members of the CTF that The Sunday Leader spoke to were convinced that the disappearance of Razeek had strong involvement with his activities in the organisation. One trustee pointed to the fact that Razeek was on the verge of organising a meeting of the trustees to sort some organisational problems he was having with Nihmath, the former trustee general.
When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Nihmath denied that there were any problems or issues between him and Razeek. Nihmath denied also that he had been involved in any CTF related activities after his resignation in March 2009.
Another group of staff members meanwhile have petitioned Minister Bathiudeen with what they felt were wrongful actions of the trustee board of CTF and claiming that large scale fund mismanagement had occurred. The matter was put to the NGO Secretariat which is overseen by the Defence Ministry for investigation.
Posters and leaflets appeared all over Puttalam town shortly after Razeek’s abduction accusing CTF of playing out public funds and also accusing several female members of the organisation of having relations with Razeek. The leaflets called for the intervention of Minister Bathiudeen to sort out the organisation’s problems.
Bathiudeen, speaking to The Sunday Leader said that he had held some hearings in the public interest, but had found no connection between the internal goings on of CTF and the disappearance of Razeek.
Appeals and protests
In addition to police complaints, a complaint has been lodged with the National Human Rights Commission. Appeals have been made to the President, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the Attorney General and Inspector General of Police. Numerous protests and pasting and distribution of posters have taken place in Razeek’s hometown and in the Puttalam District along with community meetings attempting to get to the root of the matter. Complaints have also been sent to UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
Appeals have been issued by international human rights organisations the latest of which was Amnesty International which issued a strongly worded statement urging the government to “Immediately investigate and disclose the fate and whereabouts of Pattani Razeek, who went missing on February 11, and immediately inform his family.” His family is distraught. “My mother has fallen ill from all the pressure resulting from my father’s abduction. We don’t know what has become of him, our only hope is that he is still alive,” said his son. The questioning and arrest of the only suspect so far in this case would definitely help in uncovering the truth.