Bangladesh (Reprieve) – Dozens of press freedom groups around the world are calling on Bangladesh to free an elderly British journalist held without charge for over three months.
In a joint letter to Bangladesh’s justice minister Anisul Huq, 26 groups highlight their “serious concerns” about the ongoing detention and treatment of Shafik Rehman, 81, who is in custody in Dhaka.
Signatories include Index on Censorship, the International Federation of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders/RSF. Reprieve, the human rights organisation who coordinated the letter, is concerned that Mr Rehman could be charged with offences that carry a potential death penalty.
The calls come ahead of bail proceedings in Mr Rehman’s case which are likely to be heard by Bangladesh’s Supreme Court later this month (August). Mr Rehman is a professional journalist who has spent a lifetime working for freedom of expression. His arrest represents an attack on press freedoms and forms part of a worrying trend in Bangladesh, where several prominent editors have been arrested in recent years.
At the time of his arrest, Mr Rehman was editor of the popular monthly magazine Mouchake Dhil, with experience as a TV host and producer. Previously, he has worked for the BBC and edited Jai Jai Din, a mass-circulation Bengali daily.
Mr Rehman was arrested on 16 April 2016 by police who entered his house without a warrant, inexplicably posing as a camera crew. After more than three months in detention, he has still not been charged with any crime. Under international law, the Bangladesh authorities have a duty to promptly inform Mr Rehman of the nature of the case against him and either charge or release him. The delays in this case suggest that there is no evidence against Mr Rehman, and that he should be released.
Mr Rehman is an elderly man in poor health. He spent the first weeks of detention in solitary confinement, without a bed. His health deteriorated and he was rushed to hospital. His family are seriously concerned about his health failing in prison, and he has missed important medical appointments.
Commenting, Harriet McCulloch, deputy director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:
“Shafik’s arrest and ongoing detention without charge has worried journalists all over the world. An elderly British man, he could face charges which carry the death penalty and his health is deteriorating in detention, demonstrating the risks faced by journalists and critical voices in Bangladesh. The justice minister must listen to the international concern around Shafik’s treatment. It is time Bangladesh drops this groundless investigation into a senior journalist and releases Shafik.”
This report prepared by Reprieve.