Rayhan’s life has changed drastically in the past month but he sees it as a new beginning
Rayhan Kabir, a young Bangladeshi who was arrested in Malaysia after appearing in an Al Jazeera documentary, paid a high price for speaking up against the plight of Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia.
He had to leave his job, was declared “wanted” by the Malaysian immigrant department and interrogated for 27 days straight.
Rayhan went through a lot but what made him stand out from the rest is that he never yielded under pressure from anyone and stood by his words.
“I did not commit a crime. All I wanted was to make their [the migrant workers] voices heard and tell the world that what they are going through is inhuman. They [Malaysian authority] cannot shackle anyone for being undocumented,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
Rayhan was featured in the Al Jazeera documentary "Locked Up in Malaysia's Lockdown" which documented the mistreatment of migrants by Malaysian authorities during the movement control order.
The documentary tackled the Malaysian government's "military-style" raids on migrant communities under the pretext of coronavirus management. Rayhan expressed concern about the government's actions in the documentary.
Then he was arrested on July 24 following a two-week manhunt, after the Immigration Department issued a wanted notice against him.
After the arrest, he was taken into the custody of Malaysian authorities for interrogation. In addition to having his work permit revoked, Rayhan was blacklisted from ever entering Malaysia again.
A new beginning
Rayhan was deported from Malaysia and finally landed in Bangladesh on August 22.
“I had everything...a decent place, a car, a good job, and financial stability. But everything came to an end after I appeared in that documentary,” he told the correspondent in a calm and composed manner.
However, Rayhan does not want to live in the past and think about what he has lost. Instead, he decided to pursue higher studies on migration law and work for migrant workers’ rights. His life has changed drastically in the past month but he sees it as a new beginning.
Rayhan said that he was not contacted by anyone from Al Jazeera after he was arrested. The news organization did ask him if he wanted to go anonymous and hide his face on the documentary. However, he refused to cover his face because it never occurred to him that he was violating any law.
“Speaking up for the community was not alien to me since I have done it many times before appearing in the documentary. It never occurred to me that speaking the truth would get me into this much trouble,” he added.
Rayhan thinks he was targeted because the Malaysian authority is not accustomed to see any Bangladeshi immigrant speaking up against the plight of migrant workers, especially when the Malaysian authority is directly the oppressor.
When this correspondent asked him how he was treated at the Malaysian jail, he said he is not willing to talk about it as he fears anything he says might put the Bangladeshi migrant workers in Malaysia in jeopardy.
“I will not talk about it for the sake of greater good. I do not want to jeopardize many migrant workers who are still working in Malaysia,” he added.
Shariful Hasan, head of the Migration Program at Brac, received Rayhan from the airport when he landed in Bangladesh. Shariful thinks Rayhan showed the path for the state and leading figures in this industry to take a stand.
“We should be ashamed and learn from Rayhan,” Shariful told Dhaka Tribune.
Rayhan stood up against the injustice happening right before his eyes and unlike most people he decided to speak up, said Shariful, adding that this personality trait makes him different.
“I have been working in this field for many years but I have never come across a person like Rayhan. He did not break under pressure and stood by what he believes in,” he added.