University of Toronto student Tahmid Khan has been in custody under Bangladeshi authority for almost two months without any charge, following a terrorist attack in Dhaka.
A Facebook page, Free Tahmid, was set up by friends and family of Khan to urge the Bangladeshi police to free him. The page has collected around 70,000 likes.
“As the authorities continue their investigation, our priority is to make sure the truth about Tahmid’s ordeal as a victim and a survivor are known,” read a statement by the page on August 9.
“We have faith that ultimately the truth shall prevail; we trust the authorities will conclude the investigation, declare his innocence, and Tahmid will be free,” the statement added.
Khan, a permanent resident of Canada and senior student studying global health, was expected to start an internship with UNICEF in Nepal on July 10.
This was cut short when Khan paid a visit to his family in Bangladesh. On July 1, gunmen attacked a local restaurant that Khan visited and killed more than 20 people, while holding the rest as hostages.
In an interview with The Medium, one of the administrators of the page, Josh Grondin, a third-year student at U of T studying economics and international relations, stated that the attackers went up to Khan and asked him to carry an unloaded gun, which he refused. However, they forced him to give in.
“The attackers told Mr. Khan and his friends that they would be spared because they were Bangladeshi Muslims […],” stated an article on the New York Times.
“[The hostages] said Mr. Khan persuaded the attackers to spare the group,” the article also mentioned.
Police came to the restaurant on the morning of July 2, killed many of the gunmen, and took the 13 remaining hostages, Khan included. The hostages were released on July 3, but Khan and a British citizen, Hasnat Karim, were kept as witnesses.
Grondin suggested that Khan being held in custody is mostly due to what the attackers wanted Khan to do.
Section 52 of the Bangladeshi Code of Criminal Procedure allows the police to question someone without an official warrant. The police kept Khan for an eight-day questioning period at first, then decided to extend it. Earlier this month, the investigation became a formal arrest.
“U of T is doing a lot of work behind the scenes. They reached the government of Canada […],” mentioned Grondin.
U of T president Meric Gertler sent a letter to Canada’s foreign affairs minister Stephane Dion.
“I recognize that Global Affairs Canada will be working through appropriate diplomatic channels to ascertain the facts and to advocate with colleagues in Bangladesh for Mr. Khan’s rights, including access to legal counsel and consular services, and to treatment in accordance with internationally accepted principles of the rule of law,” said Gertler in the letter.
“The University of Toronto will be pleased to offer any necessary assistance in these efforts,” he added.
Gertler also sent a letter to the Bangladesh High Commission.
Althea Blackburn-Evans, the director of media relations at U of T, told The Medium that U of T hasn’t heard a response from Global Affairs.
“We’re watching the news reports closely along with everyone else, as that’s the only way that anyone is getting information at this stage,” said Blackburn-Evans.
Blackburn-Evans stated to The Medium that the university didn’t have direct contact with Khan’s family. However, she said that Khan’s lawyer got in touch with the university, requesting their support. They gave it “by way of the president writing a letter to Global Affairs Canada and the Bangladesh High Commission.”
Grondin stated that the Canadian government checked whether there are any violations against Khan.
“Since [the Canadian government] took a much more legal approach now, like [the authorities] have done the official investigation, we’re a little bit more relaxed—because it’s been two months, and they don’t have any evidence against them. We know he’s innocent, so we think that now that they’re doing the official investigation, they’ll find out for themselves too,” said Grondin.
“We’re continuing to monitor the situation. We are concerned for his safety. We’re concerned that he’s treated fairly,” said Blackburn-Evans.