The Committee to Protect Journalists today calls on Bangladeshi authorities to release a detained journalist and probe allegations that he was mistreated in custody. Mizanur Rahman has been in jail since March 17, according to news reports and Rahman’s coworker.
Local police arrested Rahman, a correspondent for the privately owned Bangla-language daily Prothom Alo, in the southwestern Patuakhali district, according to news reports and Kamal Ahmed, consulting editor at Prothom Alo, who spoke to CPJ. Rahman was charged with assaulting an officer and obstructing government duties, according to reports and Ahmed. CPJ could not immediately determine what sentence those charges carry.
On March 22, a court denied Rahman bail, Prothom Alo reported without providing an explanation. That day, Rahman told local journalists that he had been tortured in police custody, reports said. A court-appointed medical team examined Rahman on Sunday. The same day, the team told journalists that they found “muscle injuries and torture marks” on his body and said his kidney may have been affected, the reports said. The team said they would do more tests on Rahman.
CPJ visited Dhaka between February 22 and 25 and met with journalists from an array of news outlets, including Prothom Alo. The paper’s editor and publisher, Matiur Rahman (no relation to Mizanur Rahman), provided CPJ with a document that he said listed dozens of cases filed against him and his staff from all over the country in recent years, which range in allegations from defamation to contempt of court. Rahman said he believed the cases were efforts by authorities to intimidate his paper.
Ahmed said that Prothom Alo correspondents from across the country had said that police have threatened severe consequences if they publish anything other than the official narrative of the government clampdown on the opposition.
“Given the disturbing direction that media freedoms have taken in Bangladesh, the arrest of journalists Mizanur Rahman and his alleged ill treatment in custody raise further alarm,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “We call on authorities to drop the charges against Rahman, release him, and conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations that he has been physically abused in custody.”
According to Prothom Alo, on March 17, Rahman and a police officer engaged in an argument after the officer allegedly used foul language with the journalist. The two resolved the situation and Rahman drove the officer to the police station on his own motorcycle but was arrested when he arrived, Prothom Alo said.
According to Ahmed and reports by Prothom Alo and other outlets, Rahman was arrested in retaliation for his reports alleging corruption and abuse of power by local officials. Ahmed said Rahman in February reported comments allegedly made by parliamentarian ASM Feroz of the ruling Awami League at an event that appeared to have annoyed local authorities. In the report, the parliamentarian was quoted as saying, “If anyone wants to present men with any gift, then do not bring any crest. I want cash, only cash. Don’t you understand taka? A huge amount is spent for the election,” news reports said.
Feroz told BDNews24 that he had asked for money to “strengthen the party fund.” He did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment.
Rahman’s father filed a legal petition on March 23, demanding punishment for the law enforcement officers who allegedly tortured Rahman, local reports said.
The official harassment of journalists in Bangladesh comes as other journalists, especially bloggers, have come under threat from other quarters. In the past five weeks, two bloggers were hacked to death in public. In late February, assailants killed American blogger Avijit Roy and injured his wife as they were leaving a book fair, while visiting the country. On Monday, three assailants attacked and killed blogger Washiqur Rahman Babu.