After two months since a deadly siege occured in Bangladesh, friends and family of U of T student Tahmid Hasib Khan continue to await his release from Bangladeshi authorities.
On July 1, five militants entered the Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. During the attack, 20 hostages were killed. Khan was among thirteen individuals who survived the attack. Since July, Khan has been held without charges by the Bangladesh police with little communication to his friends and family.
Khan had finished his fourth year at U of T, completing a major in Global Health and two minors in Anthropology and Statistics. During his time at U of T, Khan was involved in Model United Nations and served as a Director for the Bangladeshi Students’ Association. At the time of the deadly attack, Tahmid was en route to Nepal for an internship with UNICEF, when he stopped in Dhaka to visit friends and family.
“The situation has been incredibly tough to handle,” said Joshua Grondin, a third-year who calls Khan one of his best friends. “Knowing him personally and closely, I can be 100% confident in his innocence, and I will do absolutely everything in my power to make the world know it as well.”
Rusaro Nyinawumwami, another friend of Tahmid, said that she “was devastated at the news of his detainment,” but she has come “to accept the necessary legal processes adopted by Bangladesh, in order to ensure the country’s safety.”
Since the attack, Khan’s story has gained significant global attention. Grondin, also an administrator for a Facebook page called ‘Free Tahmid,’ states that the page’s purpose is “to raise awareness of the situation and create a support group for people most impacted by the situation.” Over the past two months, there has been an overwhelming response on the ‘Free Tahmid’ Facebook page and Nyinawumwami is optimistic that the “garnered support [can] assist in ensuring his safe return.”
The attention has not been all positive. Weeks after the attack, a video was released showing Khan holding a gun alongside an alleged attacker, prompting a wave of people to accuse Khan of being a terrorist on social media.
“Our main objective has been to share articles that have been released since the event occurred.” Grondin explained, “We found that many of these people sharing negative opinions were simply unaware of particular, important aspects of the case.”
Such sentiments were echoed by Nyinawumwami, who said, “We have countered the hateful comments with facts and character statements about Tahmid. We do not necessarily want to ‘feed the troll’, however we do our best to educate others by providing links to pertinent articles further explaining his unfortunate circumstance and advocating for his innocence.”
Some hostages anonymously recounted what they witnessed the night of the attack. According to Guernica, an American magazine, one “hostage confirmed previous reports that the gunmen had forced Khan to hold an unloaded gun during the night… the purpose [appeared] to have been to use Khan as a human shield.”
One witness claimed that “Tahmid was crying when the gunmen asked him to carry a gun.” The New York Times has also reported similar remarks from other witnesses.
In the continuous attempt to prove Khan’s innocence, Khan’s supporters sent still photos of him holding the gun to body language expert India Ford. During Ford’s analysis, she concluded, “It is very clear from the still photographs that Tahmid’s body language can’t be matched with that of the attacker… The body does not lie. In my opinion, Tahmid is an innocent victim of a dangerous incident… His only crime was to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Grondin stated that he believes they “have been so successful in advocating on his behalf because he had such a profound impact on so many people” and calls Khan “by far one of the most caring people you could ever meet.”
“He is a part of our U of T community,” said Nyinawumwami. “He is truly one of our own.”
“Tahmid, we’re keeping you in our thoughts and fighting for your safe return,” she added.