Dhaka, Bangladesh (Reprieve) – An elderly British journalist who could face the death penalty in Bangladesh will tomorrow have been jailed without charge for 4 months, amid worsening fears for his wellbeing.
Shafik Rehman, 81, is a well known journalist and editor in Bangladesh who has also worked as a speechwriter for the country’s main opposition party. On April 16th this year, he was arrested without a warrant in his home, by plainclothes officers who reportedly posed as a TV camera crew. Mr Rehman has been held ever since then without charge, but it is feared that if charged he may face trial for crimes which could carry the death penalty. A Supreme Court hearing later this month will consider Mr Rehman’s case.
Mr Rehman, who has been repeatedly denied bail, is 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. Human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting him, has written to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, asking him to urgently support Mr Rehman’s application for bail.
Mr Rehman’s detention comes as Bangladesh faces criticism for a wider attack on journalists and opposition activists. Last week, 26 press freedom groups wrote to Bangladesh’s justice minister, Anisul Huq, calling for Mr Rehman’s release, and highlighting their “serious concerns” about his treatment and that of other journalists. A former US ambassador to Bangladesh and Pakistan, William B. Milam, has said that Bangladesh’s government “has silenced critics by resorting to enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings”, and that journalists who, like Mr Rehman, “dare cover any of this are being charged with sedition and treason.”
Speaking to the BBC last week in response to the press freedom groups, an official from the Bangladeshi High Commission in London defended Mr Rehman’s lengthy detention, and denied that press freedoms were under threat in Bangladesh.
Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:
“Bangladesh’s government has inflicted a whole series of injustices on Shafik Rehman – from his arrest by a fake TV crew, to his detention without charge in poor conditions, and repeated refusal of bail. This is an outrageous way to treat an elderly journalist whose only ‘crime’ appears to have been writing critically about the government. Shafik’s family in the UK are desperately worried that he may face a death sentence – the British government must urge Bangladesh to end this charade, and release Shafik.”
This report prepared by Reprieve.