Sanjida Yasmin, a resident of Chattogram city’s Noyabazar area, has been living in constant paranoia for nearly two months.
Every day, she fears that police will knock on her door and harass her and her family with unwanted queries.
Sanjida claims her fear stems from having faced persistent police harassment ever since her husband was picked up by law enforcement on March 2. Although he was subsequently released, this came at a great financial cost to the family.
“On that morning, my husband Sheikh Jasim Ahmed went out to get breakfast for us,” Sanjida told the Dhaka Tribune. “While he was doing this, some people in plain-clothes led by Pahartoli police station Sub-Inspector Shahadat Hossain stopped him.”
Sanjida said the undercover officers claimed to have found incriminating evidence against him.
“My husband said he wasn’t a criminal and asked the police why they were behaving in this way with him,” she said. “I rushed to the spot to support my husband when I heard news of the incident from locals, but the police had already taken Tk12,500 which was in his pocket.”
Sanjida and Jasmin both argued with the police officers over the extortion, at which point the law enforcers detained Jasim and took him to Pahartoli police station.
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“When I asked SI Shahadat why they had picked up my husband without a reason, he told me that I was responsible for it,” Sanjida said with tears in her eyes. “He said if the two of us had not protested over the Tk12,500, then they would have left us.”
She further said the SI later demanded Tk500,000 for Pahartoli police station OC Rafikul Islam in order to secure her husband’s release.
“The SI also warned me that they would show my husband as the accused in a drug or arms case if I created problems over the matter. Hearing this, I went to the OC, who told me he would look into the matter after speaking to his subordinates.”
Sanjida said when she returned to the OC a few hours after the first meeting, the police official scolded her and said he had no time for such matters as 200 cases were appealed before him daily. He instructed her to speak to the officer who was handling the matter.
She later went to SI Shahadat at the police station and managed to convince him to free her husband for Tk100,000 after much pleading.
“When I gave him the money, he took three signatures from me on white paper and went away,” she said.
However, when SI Shahadat did not return to the police station by 10pm, Sanjida tried repeatedly to contact him by mobile phone. At one stage, the SI picked up the phone and scolded her, saying that not only would he not free her husband, but he would also show both Sanjida and Jasim as the accused in a drug case.
Subsequently, Sanjida said she went to Panchlaish Zone Assistant Commissioner Pankaj Barua and informed him of the entire incident.
“When the assistant commissioner asked the policemen about the matter, they could not provide him with any satisfactory answers,” she said. “The AC them told me that my husband would be released the following morning.”
The extortion attempts did not end there, however. Sanjida said SI Sunoyon Barua of the police station asked for another Tk30,000 to give to the OC to ensure Jasim’s release.
“After failing to see any other option, I gave the Tk30,000 to SI Sunoyon,” she said. “I have video footage of the handover. Later, the police again took my signature on some white papers and freed my husband.”
Sanjida’s hopes that the traumatic experience would end with her husband’s release were soon proved unfounded, as local policeman began harassing her with unnecessary queries on a frequent basis.
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Failing to tolerate this, Sanjida lodged a written complaint with Chattogram Metropolitan Police Commissioner Iqbal Bahar against OC Rafiqul, SI Shahadat and SI Sunoyon over the alleged extortion.
“On April 3, SI Sunoyon phoned me and threatened that I would face great loss if I revealed the incident and did not withdraw the complaint,” Sanjida said.
With the pressure to withdraw the complaint and knocks from police showing no signs of stopping, Sanjida finally narrated her terrible experience to the media through a press conference at the Crime Reporters Association Bangladesh office in Dhaka on Friday.
When contacted, Pahartoli police station OC Rafikul Islam denied that he had taken any money from Sanjida, and said Jasim had been picked up as he was a known yaba dealer.
“We detained him on March 2, this is true. But we released him as we could not find any yaba in his possession,” the OC said.
Denying the OC’s claim, Sanjida said her husband was only a trader at the Pahartoli kitchen market and was not involved in any illegal activities.
The CMP commissioner could not be reached for comment despite repeated attempts to contact him by phone.
CMP Additional Commissioner (Crime and Operation) Amena Begum told the Dhaka Tribune that she was unaware of the matter, but if a complaint had been filed then it would be investigated.