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Free Tahmid

Images courtesy of Karishma Khan

Free Tahmid

Tahmid Hasib Khan is a U of T student and a survivor of the July 1 hostage crisis in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was not one of the gunmen, has not been charged, and fellow hostages publicly stated he is innocent — however, he has been held in custody since the attack.

Tick, tock.

At this very moment, a mother sits staring at a clock. She has been doing this since July 1, so you can easily count the number of days since she started. And all she can do is stare and wait, hoping this might be the day her son comes home. She watches until it gets too late to hope anymore. The next morning, she starts again.

Her son is missing. She knows who is holding him, but she does not know why or where.

His name is Tahmid, a 22-year-old Canadian permanent resident and student at the University of Toronto. He plays guitar, sings, performs in shows, and plays soccer — Real Madrid is his favourite team. He is detained somewhere in Bangladesh.

His mother thinks it is her fault. Tahmid should be in Nepal right now working with UNICEF, but she asked him to come home to see her on the way. On the morning of July 1, Tahmid flew into Bangladesh to see his mother. That night, he met a couple of friends, one of whom lives opposite the Holey Artisan Bakery, an Italian cafe. They fancied ice cream, and so decided to go inside.

That ice cream changed their lives. The Bakery was attacked by gunmen who held them hostage for 11 hours and killed 20 people. Tahmid and his friends witnessed it all.

[pullquote-default]All Tahmid is guilty of is going to see his mother, and going for ice cream with his friends.[/pullquote-default]

Hostages said that during the night Tahmid and others were forced to hold unloaded weapons and act as decoys. Tahmid broke down in tears and initially refused, but he was forced at gunpoint to obey orders.

The hostages also said Tahmid persuaded the gunmen to release a group of them — they escaped just before the army raided. In his bravery, Tahmid helped to save seven lives.

However, once he got outside, Tahmid was attacked by the police. The other hostages came to his defence and explained he was a victim, but the police nevertheless took him into custody. Since July 3, none of Tahmid’s friends or relatives have seen or spoken with him, and his whereabouts remain a mystery.

His mother spent the night of the attack praying her son would survive. She collapsed with relief and patiently waited to hold him again. That is when she started watching the clock. That night turned into another, and another, and still no one has told her where he is or what is happening.

Imagine if your mother was waiting, hoping that you were alright, jumping every time the phone rang just in case you had turned up.

After the first week, the police said they had released Tahmid, and that he had been free for days. Everyone searched and asked every agency, but Tahmid had disappeared.

After the second week, the police changed their minds. They did have him, after all, but no explanation was provided for this change of story.


Tahmid has epilepsy triggered by sleep deprivation and stress.  According to the Human Rights Watch, he has not seen a lawyer or even had a phone call. He has no idea whether anyone even knows he is alive. Other survivors of the attack are receiving counselling; they cannot sleep, traumatized by the events. They are suffering, and our hearts go out to them, but at least they are home.

All Tahmid is guilty of is going to see his mother and going for ice cream with his friends. Now, he is alone in a strange room, surrounded by strange people.

His mother sits watching the clock, praying she can see him again, to hold him and say, “I’m sorry” for calling him back home.

News cycles change, memories fade, but Tahmid’s mother remains by the clock. Let us end it. A little of our time every day could end her wait.

By Josh Grondin and Rusaro Nyinawumwami

We can stop the clock. It only takes a few seconds to spread this message and tell your friends. a few seconds every day to like and share, a few seconds to follow and retweet, and a few seconds more to e-mail MPs, the university, or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. #FreeTahmid

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