A highway of harassment
Not only Bangladeshi-Swedish couple, other passengers also complain of wrongful search by law enforcers on Jessore-Benapole highway
What a Swedish couple of Bangladeshi origin had gone through on Thursday evening is commonplace on Jessore-Benapole highway, a 37-kilometre stretch that leads to India.
Even after completion of customs and immigration procedures, passport holders returning from India are searched at least seven times by police and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) on the road.
Members of Sharsa Police Station, Jhikargachha Police Station, Kotwali Police Station and Chanchara Police Outpost search passengers by setting up undeclared checkpoints.
BGB men also conduct search three times -- first at Benapole land port, second at Amrakhali and third by a patrol team, according to local sources.
There are no rules that permit law enforcers to check passport holders randomly after completion of immigration and customs procedures unless they have specific information about anyone carrying illegal goods, said Customs Commissioner ASM Abdullah Khan of Benapole Customs House.
Jessore Additional Superintendent of Police AKM Ariful Haque too echoed the view. “If our officials conduct random searches, we will take action against them based on victims' complaints," he added.
The Daily Star talked to a number of passengers who allegedly have faced harassment in the name of checking on the highway.
Of them, a businessman in Dhaka said he and his family members were returning by a bus a month ago. They had completed customs procedures, but BGB men stopped the bus at Amrakhali checkpoint, searched their luggage and seized some clothes, giving them a slip.
The border guards “estimated the prices of the clothes to be Tk 68 thousand” and said the family will have to collect those from customs warehouse paying taxes according to this price.
A week ago, the businessman collected those clothes from Benapole customs, which calculated the prices to be only Tk 2,600 and charged taxes accordingly.
The businessman added that they had bought the clothes for their own use.
The case of Faharul Islam of Basabo area in the capital is worse.
At the same Amrakhali point, BGB men yesterday took away clothes from Faharul and his wife. But the couple wasn't given any slip or any instruction for collecting the clothes.
About BGB checking passengers three times, Lt Colonel Jahangir Hossain, commanding officer of 26 BGB Battalion in Jessore, said patrol team conducts operations following specific information.
About checking two more times, he said, "We check passport holding passengers so that none can dodge taxes.”
Mizanur Rahman, a Bangladeshi expatriate in Sweden, went to Benapole Land Port on Thursday by a hired car to receive his wife Khukumoni Parvin, who was returning from a relative's house in India.
Mizanur is an engineer and Khukumoni a nurse in the Scandinavian country.
As the couple were on the way to their Narail house, five policemen stopped the car in Panchpukur area, about 20 kilometres from the land port, around 5:30pm.
"They started searching us and found $3000 in my wife's handbag. They told us that the money was illegal, as there was no endorsement of the amount on my wife's passport," said Mizanur.
"They became angry when I told them about the rule that endorsement was not needed for an amount below $5,000."
At one stage, the policemen took away the money, he said.
After the incident hogged the headlines, a plainclothes cop came to his Narail residence Friday morning and returned the money. "The man asked me to write down on a piece of paper that I found the money in my bag. But I refused," he told The Daily Star.
Five policemen were closed and attached to Jessore Police Lines after the incident.
ASP Ariful Haque also said the police personnel were closed on charges of setting up a checkpoint in the area without permission and harassing people. Process was underway to file a departmental case against them.