Former Ms Ireland Maksuda Akhter Prioty took to Facebook to allege that a prominent businessman and UP chairman sexually assaulted her in his office in 2015
In what is perhaps the first revelation in Bangladesh since the #MeToo movement spread worldwide a little over a year ago, an Irish-Bangladeshi model and former Ms Ireland has raised the allegation of rape against a prominent businessman.
Maksuda Akhter Prioty, a media personality who currently works as a commercial pilot in Ireland, released a number of Facebook posts and a video accusing Rongdhanu Group owner and Chairman Rafiqul Islam – also the chairman of Kayetpara Union Parishad in Rupganj, Narayanganj – of sexually assaulting her, raping her digitally (with fingers), and of threatening and intimidating her afterwards.
Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Rongdhanu Group Chairman Rafiqul Islam denounced her allegations as false and politically motivated, calling it a smear campaign by his rivals.
The first revelation came from Prioty on October 29, when she wrote a short Facebook status levelling the charge against Rafiqul.
In this status, Prioty said she came in contact with Rafiqul while working for an advertisement for Rongdhanu Group’s product Promex Milk in 2015.
In May 2015, she said, she was asked into Rafiqul’s office to collect payment for the work, and it was there that he assaulted her.
The model named two other individuals whom she had revealed the incident to: Syeda Jemrina Zaman Lopa, head of media department at Rongdhanu Group, who produced the advertisement, and model and Miss World Bangladesh 2018 judge Khaled Hossain Chowdhury Sujon, who she described as a close friend.
Later, Prioty posted a live video on Facebook and gave a detailed description of how the alleged incident took place.
‘All I could think of was how to get out’
Speaking on the live video, Prioty described Rafiqul’s office room as soundproof and secure.
She said in May 2015, she went to the office in Dhaka and was taken to Rafiqul’s room.
“While I was talking to him, he suddenly told Lopa to leave, saying he had to tell me something in private.
“When she left, he suddenly came around the table and put his hand inside my clothes,” she added.
Prioty paused many times as she described the incident, leaving some sentences unfinished.
“He forced me out of the chair and onto the table. His hands started groping me all over the body. He grabbed my face and... on my lips..."
“While he was struggling with me, as he took off what I was wearing below my waist, the only thing on my mind was how I could escape from this, because no one would hear me in there,” she said.
She described Rafiqul as a criminal with illegal wealth and power.
“No one would have known if he killed me right there. You might say: ‘Why didn’t you get up and slap him?’ What would have happened to me if I did? I wasn’t able to think. I had frozen up,” she said.
Prioty claimed she then tried cajoling Rafiqul in order to escape the worst.
“As he put his hand into my clothes below my waist, I told him: ‘Can we not do this now? Can I come later with some time in hand?’ All I was hoping was to stop him from forcing [himself on] me,” she said.
“I tried to convince him that I would sleep with him. Then he calmed down. He let go of my hand and let me stand up.
“As I started fixing my clothes, he started telling me: ‘You’re lonely, you don’t have a husband, your life is hard. I will look after you. I will look after you in Ireland. All you have to do is keep me happy, look after me.’
“I managed to get out of that room. I immediately told Lopa what had happened. But she could do nothing. She does not have that power.
“As I cried, she stood beside me silently, and put her hand on my back. She arranged a car for me to return home,” she said.
Prioty said Rafiqul had told her to return the next day to collect her payment.
“When I did not go, he realized I would never go to him, and he got scared.
“He kept calling my Bangladeshi number and I switched it off. Whenever I turned it on he would call. Eventually I picked it up. Then he told me, if I talked about what happened, it wouldn’t take him two seconds to do me off. He said Ireland wasn’t very far. I was within his reach.”
The Dhaka Tribune can confirm that Prioty appeared in 2015 in a televised advertisement for Promex Milk, a milk powder imported by Rongdhanu Group.
In a later Facebook post, Prioty described what had happened to her as digital rape, or forced penetration with fingers.
Sujon reticent, Lopa unreachable
Asked whether Prioty had described her alleged rape to him, model Khaled Hossain Chowdhury Sujon repeatedly evaded a direct answer.
“I haven’t made any comment or any discussions related to this matter with anyone yet. Also, does my claim of whether this is true or not really matter? The victim here is Prioty who is a very reputed woman and has a successful career. Isn’t her statement alone enough?” he said, when pressed for an answer.
Asked again whether she actually told him about this incident or not, he replied: “My approval of this incident doesn’t matter as I am not the one who went through this.
“But what I do want to say is that, what Prioty did takes a lot of courage to do. I want to advise everyone to stay safe while handling matters like these.
“I also want this conversation to keep going, and hopefully a lot of women like her will come forward and share their story, so this society and its people can change this heinous mentality.”
The Dhaka Tribune has been unable to reach Syeda Jemrina Zaman Lopa.
‘Politically-motivated character assassination’
The Dhaka Tribune attempted to contact Rafiqul Islam soon after the release of the video. He remained unreachable until Friday evening.
On Friday, he spoke to the Dhaka Tribune over phone, denouncing Prioty’s allegations as false and politically motivated.
Asked whether he had met Prioty in his office, he said: “I don’t know anything of that sort and I don’t handle these. But she claims that I did this in my office, right? I would like to invite you or anyone to my office to cross-examine if such a thing is possible here or not.
“This is all staged. I will run for election soon and, as you know, there are political oppositions,” he said.
“I don’t even know her and she is accusing me of something that happened almost four years ago. My employees have told me that she lives in Ireland. If I did any of this, tell her to come to Bangladesh and give proof.”
He accused his political opponent, Golam Dastagir Gazi, Narayanganj 1 MP and chairman of Gazi Group, of having fabricated these allegations, adding that their rivalry had been going on for some time and there had been attempts on his life.
“I have also heard that this woman has a relation with the MP’s son and now they have teamed up to make these false accusations against me. My employees showed me that she lives in Ireland and even has two children there. How would I know her?”
The Dhaka Tribune contacted Prioty, who is currently in Ireland, asking whether she had any corroborating evidence, such as phone records. She has yet to respond to the queries.
Dhaka Tribune Sub Editor Nazia Nusrat Adnin contributed to this story