Alauddin Sheikh, 28 and naked, jumped into the sea in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, no longer able to bear the severe torture his abductors were inflicting on him on the human trafficking ship he was aboard.
He, together with six others abducted nearly three months ago by human smugglers, jumped into the sea and were later rescued by a fishing boat from Myanmar. A few days ago, they reached Myanmar’s Mundu with help from the fishermen.
Yesterday, they were rescued by members of the Bangladesh Coast Guard after they had reached Shah Parir Dwip on a small fishing boat with help from some Muslims from Myanmar. Seven other people were rescued by members of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) from Teknaf in Cox’s Bazar the same day.
“There were 68 people on the large ship. Four were women, including one from Bangladesh. There were several among us who were less than 18 years old. We had some physically challenged people with us, too. Before us, five others jumped into the sea to escape the torture. Three of them died. We do not know what became of the other two,” Alauddin, a resident of Jhenidah district, said.
This correspondent met him at the Teknaf police station last evening after he and his six companions were handed over to the police by the Coast Guard.
“There are still many more people on the ship. They [the abductors] told us that they would free us after 18 months if we worked as fishermen and paid them Tk2.3 lakh. After that we could send Tk8,000 back to our families, they told us.”
Alauddin never knew that his good friend Shahid Gazi, also from Jhenidah’s Kaliganj area, would turn out to be a member of the gang of human smugglers. He said Shahid lured him aboard by saying that they were going on a vacation to Cox’s Bazar.
“My perception of Shahid changed after we came to the Kutubjum area in Moheshkhali of Cox’s Bazar. Shahid locked me in a small room in a boarding house there. Then I was taken to the house of a person named Faruq. This Faruq is an uncle of Luthu alias Russel. I learned the name of Russel because I heard Shahid talking to him over the phone several times,” Alauddin said.
“I was the first person to be taken to that house. Later, 15 more people were abducted and brought there.
“I got really scared when I found out that I had been sold for Tk35,000 to a person named Afsar, who is a godfather. Afsar boarded us on a small boat and eventually, we were brought to that big ship.
“We were kept in that house for 17 days. You would not believe me if I said that everybody, even children, carried arms in Moheshkhali – but it is true. Armed people, including children, guarded the house so that we could not escape.”
Pointing at the policemen, Alauddin boldly said: “Even the police do not have those kinds of weapons. I’ve only seen such big and heavy weapons in films.”
Like Alauddin, the other 12 people had similar stories to tell.
The only mode of communication between the mainland and Moheshkhali island are speed boats. They were all first taken on speed boats, held captive at gunpoint, and taken to similar safe houses on Moheshkhali. After a few days’ stay in captivity, someone boarded them onto small boats and took them to the big ship in the deep sea.
“The torture began as soon as I boarded the big ship. They [the abductors] were 10 in number. One of them was a Bangladeshi and all of them carried arms. I have only seen this kind of thing in films,” Alauddin continued.
“They told us not to worry. They said we were lucky as we were going to Malaysia and there we would get good jobs on fishing boats.”
Alauddin said he had a computer and mobile phone repair shop back at his village in Kaliganj, Jhenidah.
One hundred grams of rice, three to four dried red chillies and a cup of water twice a day – around seven in the morning and after midnight – was the only food they got to eat.
“Every evening, they fired blank rounds with their guns to frighten us, so that we would not try to escape. The Bangladeshi abductor translated the instructions for us. The rest of them sounded like Thai people.
“They tortured us with iron rods, pipes, knives and sticks. They even burnt my hand with cigarettes. We were not allowed to say a word. Even when we asked for water, they beat us up. The children cried all the time. They tortured the women the most – mercilessly.”
After Alauddin and the others jumped ship, fishermen from Mynamar rescued them from the sea and took them to a hilly, forested area. They had to walk for days through the jungle. They were weak and sick from days of near starvation. Many of them were naked. Finally, they reached Mundu, in Myanmar, where they met some Muslims who gave them food, clothing and shelter. They also showed them the way by which they could reach the Naf river in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar.
“The Muslims from Myanmar warned us not to tread into the Mogh area. They said the Mogh would either kill us or hand us over if they found us. If that happened, we would have to languish in Myanmar jails for seven years,” Alauddin continued.
“So we kept walking for days through the hilly terrain. Finally, with help from some Myanmar people, we got onto a boat that dropped us near Shah Porir Dwip. From there, the Coast Guard men rescued us.
“I am a free man again and this is a new life for me. I feel relief after being able to breathe the air of my motherland again,” Alauddin said.