Saturday, April 18, 2009

PM issues cheques, MP's men take away

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The local Awami League (AL) lawmaker's men in Bagmara upazila have allegedly taken away cheques worth Tk 19 lakh granted by the prime minister for the victims of the cruelties committed by Bangla Bhai-led vigilante gangs.

They are now pressing the recipients to hand them the rest two of the 21 Tk 1 lakh cheques distributed on Wednesday.

The victims said they have been threatened not to speak to the media about the matter.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Adviser HT Imam distributed the cheques among those who had suffered at the hands of Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB) cadres in 2004 and 2005.

During the cheque-giving ceremony at Bhwaniganj School playground, the prime minister held a teleconference with Bagmara residents.

She said her government would ensure justice for those who fell prey to executed Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) second-in-command Siddiqul Islam alias Bangla Bhai and his henchmen.

After the meeting, some local AL leaders including upazila AL General Secretary Zakirul Islam Santu, Mougachhi Union AL General Secretary Abdur Razzak Mollah and upazila Jubo League President Abdus Salam asked the recipients to meet them with the cheques at Enamul Haque's cold storage the next morning.

Ataur Rahman, a torture victim, said after he and Parijan Bibi went there, MP Enamul told them to do as Salam asks.

Parijan was given the cheque for his husband Rafiqul who was tortured by Bangla Bhai but is now behind bars for suspected links to Purbo Banglar Communist Party.

Salam took the two to a room and asked to give him the cheques.

"He said, 'As our MP had to spend time and money to have the funds approved, you should share the grants with us. After cashing the cheque, we will keep Tk 50,000 and you'll have the rest'," Ataur continued.

"As we told him that we did not bring the cheques with us, he body-searched us but couldn't find any. 'Get out!' he screamed, seething with rage.

"He and Razzak however contacted us again and said they would never let us convert the cheques."

Describing similar experience, Parijan said, "I pray for Sheikh Hasina for what she did for us. But what's the use of this cheque if I can't get cash out of it?"

Unlike Ataur and Parijan, the 19 other victims had to give in to the pressure of the MP's associates.

"Had our MP not tried, you would never get any money. He will try for more donations for you in future. So, you better split the amount with us," Manik, another JMJB victim, quoted Salam as telling him.

"Salam had us put our signatures on the cheques, and promised to give us each Tk 50,000," Manik added.

Abdul Gafur of Jhikra, Asir Uddin of Khalimpara and Anisur Rahman of Chhoto Madhaimuri--everyone's story is much the same.

Talking to The Daily Star last night, Enamul Haque denied the allegations.

He said, "My men were only trying to help them cash the cheques. None of the victims will be deprived of the money granted by the prime minister."

The MP said at least 24 cheques, each worth Tk 1 lakh, have been issued for the JMJB victims in Bagmara. Three were yet to be distributed as identity of the claimants could not be confirmed.

Asked if he knows that the cheques were indeed taken away from the recipients after they went to his cold storage, he said he would look into it.

"I asked my men to arrange for the victims to gather at my place so they can be photographed and shown to the prime minister," he added.

"Most people in our area are illiterate. They don't know how to open a bank account and cash cheques. So I asked my men to help them."

Enamul said some quarters are out to make an issue of the matter.

Abdus Salam too dismissed the allegations as baseless.

Zakirul Islam Santu said they had asked the cheque recipients to get together for a group photo with the MP. "We didn't ask for their cheques."

He added that there are at least 600 JMJB victims in Bagmara. As only 21 have received aid from the PM's fund, many feel aggrieved. "Maybe some of them are spreading this sort of falsehood."

Meanwhile, locals alleged that a few of the grant recipients are 'fake victims'.

Yasin Ali, vice-chairman of Bagmara upazila parishad, said, "We know of some people getting financial assistance though they were not subjected to JMJB brutalities."

Bagmara upazila AL President Abdus Sobhan Chowdhury said, "Bangla Bhai's cadres ransacked my house and drove my family out of home in 2004. Still, I was not considered a victim."

He said he wonders how Fazlur Rahman, families of Golam Rabbani Mukul, Monwar Hossain Babu and Shushanta were left out of the victims' list.

JMB patron and BNP leader barrister Aminul Haque has been jailed for 31 and a half years in the case filed for torture on Fazlur.

The family of Mahbubur Rahman, who was killed by JMJB in 2005, is among those who received the grants.

The others include Saidur Rahman of Khalishpur, Nazmul Haque Tipu of Kalapara, Amjad Hossain of Senpara, Subed Chandra Sarker, Bablu Sarker and Nayan Kumar of Boro Koya, Abdul Barik of Badanna, Sayed Ali of Koalipara, Ashraful, Afzal, Nazrul Islam and Akkas Ali of Khoyra.

Some 25 people were killed and several hundred mimed in JMJB's terror campaign across Rajshahi, Natore and Naogaon.

Bangla Bhai along with JMB supremo Shaekh Abdur Rahman and four other top militant leaders was executed in 2007.

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