Star Investigates: How did a bike accident become an extortion case?
"I later came to know that my son filed a case. I thought it was over the accident and that we would get some compensation… But later, the whole story changed."
A simple motorbike accident by a teenage boy in the capital's Mirpur has been turned into an extortion case against eight school and college students for reasons the victim, his family and witnesses cannot explain.
In the evening of March 7, Abdul Barek was hit and injured by a teenage biker in front of Baitur Rahman Jame Mosjid in Mirpur 12.
The 60-year-old was first rushed to a nearby hospital and then to the National Institute of Traumatology and Orthopaedic Rehabilitation by locals, and he returned home the same night with his fractured left arm in a cast.
A case drafted by Rab-4 three days later tells a very different story, however.
The case makes no mention of the accident or the biker. Instead, it accuses five college students and three more teenagers, including two school-goers from the neighbourhood, of "beating, injuring and extorting Tk 40,500" from Barek, a tea vendor.
The accused include a 15-year-old son of Mohon Mia, who is allegedly a victim of enforced disappearance. Mohan Mia went missing in 2018 after a dispute over a piece of land in Mirpur 2 with a local man.
Mohon Mia's father Jamsher Ali and locals suspect some Rab members sided with that man, and turned against Jamsher's family and some locals.
Locals and the victims' families also suspect Rab was influenced by an informant who wanted to "teach these boys a lesson" for the bike accident.
Barek's son Nazmul Hossain Bappi, the plaintiff of the case, said he wanted to file a case over the accident, seeking compensation, and that he only signed the statement drawn up by Rab.
He also alleged that Rab kept him and five of the accused in the Rab-4 headquarters in Paikpara for about 24 hours, before they were all taken to Pallabi Police Station for Bappi to lodge the already drafted case and for the five students to be handover to the police.
Parvez Islam, officer-in-charge of Pallabi Police Station, declined to comment citing ongoing investigation.
Rab-4 Company Commander refuted all the allegations and said they acted properly.
Talking to The Daily Star recently, Barek said he was returning home after buying some goods for his shop when the accident happened.
He said the biker, who was alone, could be aged around 15, and that he passed out after being hit.
"I later came to know that my son filed a case. I thought it was over the accident and that we would get some compensation… But later, the whole story changed," he said.
According to the case statement, the accused came in front of Barek's tea stall in Mirpur 12 on three motorbikes and demanded Tk 20,000. Refused, they beat him up with iron pipes, leaving him with a fractured arm and injuries to his head and other parts of the body.
A spot visit by The Daily Star found the accident spot is about a kilometre from the tea stall.
Barek said nothing in the case statement is true.
The case, filed on March 10, also states that the accused were members of "Sumon-Habib" gang involved in extortion and mugging in the area.
Locals said there was indeed one such gang, but the accused and their families denied they were involved with the group.
After hitting Barek, the biker fled the scene, leaving the bike that he borrowed from another teenager. The Daily Star is withholding the biker's name for legal reasons.
Subsequently, he told the bike owner, Nahidul Islam Nirob, 19, and some other friends about the accident. In the hope of getting back the bike, they contacted the victim's family immediately, offering compensation. They also supported Barek with his treatment at two hospitals.
Nirob and four of his friends made an agreement with Bappi that they would come the following day (March 8) for final settlement regarding compensation for Barek and the return of the bike.
In the meantime, a man known as a Rab informant in the neighbourhood who happens to be an acquaintance of Bappi, told Bappi that he could use his influence to secure the compensation.
He also told Bappi, who lost his brother a year ago in a separate bike accident in the area, that he should teach these boys a lesson.
Everything changed after a Rab team raided the area as the bike owner and four of his friends went there for the settlement on March 8 evening, said Habibur Rahman Payel, one of the accused.
"As we were about to enter Barek's house, some Rab members in plainclothes stormed the scene out of nowhere. We were rounded up and kept in Rab custody till late evening of March 9. Then we were handed over to Pallabi police," he said.
None of them were allowed to contact their families, he claimed.
Bappi, who was also taken to the Rab 4 office along with the five accused, said he wanted to file a case over reckless driving.
"But the Rab members didn't want it that way," he said.
He claimed when a Rab official drafted the case, he requested the official not to charge the boys with beating up his father.
After the drafting was over, the Rab official asked Bappi to sign it.
"They also recorded a complaint that said the gang members threatened us, and had me sign that too," Bappi added.
Nakib Uddin Shikder, a local trader, and Montaj Ali, an embroidery worker, who were made witnesses in the case, were surprised to learn about the allegations made in the complaint.
"The case statement is completely false," Nakib said, and then went on to describe how the accident took place near the mosque before Maghrib prayers, how locals took Barek to the hospital and how they seized the bike in the hope of getting compensation for the family.
"We know nothing about the extortion and assault," Nakib said, adding that a day after the incident, a Rab team went to his shop near the scene of the accident and asked him to sign a document.
Montaj was not even present at the scene of the accident. And yet, Rab members allegedly forced him to sign a paper when he went to a mobile servicing shop near Barek's house the next day.
"I told them I am illiterate and cannot read or write. So, Rab members wrote my name on a piece of paper and had me practise several times before making me sign their paper," he alleged.
ABUSE OF POWER?
Former Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Haque expressed his disbelief at the findings of The Daily Star, and said, "If true, then it is a clear case of abuse of power."
Noted rights activist Nur Khan questioned the very involvement of Rab in a case of an accident.
"Rab was not supposed to be involved in this matter. If needed, police could take action [against the biker]. It appears that Rab did this beyond the legal scope of its work," he said.
The accused college students, Habibur Rahman Payel, Nahidul Islam Nirob, Proggyanur Rahman Mughdo, Saiful Islam, and Dewan MA Mahim, are now on bail.
Of the three boys accused, one is the son of Mohon Mia, the alleged victim of enforced disappearance, the other is Mohon's cousin while the third is a resident of the neighbourhood.
One of the three was arrested by Rab one and a half month after the case was filed, and he has since been freed on bail. The other two boys have been living in fear of arrest.
Court sources said Bappi, the plaintiff, has submitted a deposition that he had no objection if the accused were discharged.
Asked about the three other accused, Payel, himself an accused, said he did not even know them and that he came to know about the three much later.
Zahirul Islam, who retired from a security force, denied that he was a Rab informant.
He said he was in the vicinity when Rab members raided the area.
"One of my former colleagues [in the security force] was in the Rab team and he invited me to their canteen. That's why I went to the Rab office with Bappi," he said.
Rab 4 Company Commander Superintendent of Police Joyita Shilpi, who led the drive, said they acted upon the complaint filed by the plaintiff. She also denied that Rab members drafted the case statement.
Asked about the three teenage boys' inclusion in the case, she said she was only aware of five accused. "I do not know what happened later."