UK-funded Bangladesh police squad arrested British journalist

Bangladesh (Reprieve) – The UK government has been funding the Bangladesh police squad that arrested an elderly British journalist who potentially faces a death sentence, human rights group Reprieve has discovered.

Shafik Rehman, an 81 year old British grandfather, is a prominent journalist and opposition figure in Bangladesh. He was arrested in April 2016 by plainclothes officers from the country’s Detective Branch, amid a recent crackdown on free speech in Bangladesh.

Mr Rehman continues to be held without charge, having so far been denied bail, and is in poor health. Officials in Bangladesh have accused him of offences including sedition and it is feared that if charged he may face the death penalty. However, no evidence has been presented to his lawyers and the case appears politically motivated.

In 2009, Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) contributed £10 million to a five year UN scheme to train police in Bangladesh. A UN document shows DFID was the majority funder and the project included helping the Detective Branch “deal more professionally” with arrests, and improve “the use of evidence in investigations”. The project was extended until barely four months before Mr Rehman’s arrest, a freedom of information request by Reprieve found.

Image Source: Police_Mad_Liam, Flickr, Creative Commons British Transport Police - Ford Transit & Focus

Image Source: Police_Mad_Liam, Flickr, Creative Commons
British Transport Police – Ford Transit & Focus

In Mr Rehman’s case, the Detective Branch entered his home without a warrant – reportedly posing as a TV camera crew. The detectives have repeatedly missed deadlines to submit evidence, delaying proceedings and prolonging his detention.

A former US Ambassador to Bangladesh said recently that political opponents “have been framed on spurious corruption charges … [and] Journalists who dare cover any of this are being charged with sedition and treason.”

DFID admitted last year that there was a risk of its “support to the Bangladesh Police being misused for political purposes”. In a review of the aid project, the department said that “concerns about the Police’s lack of operational independence from the government in power … have intensified”, and that there was “growing concern about a contraction of democratic space”. DFID also noted allegations that police were involved in murder, citing “increased reports of extrajudicial killing by law enforcers”.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“Britain must demand answers from Bangladesh about whether UK aid has contributed in any way to the arrest of journalists like Shafik Rehman. British diplomats must find out the real reasons behind Mr Rehman’s ongoing detention and call for his immediate release. Months on from Mr Rehman’s arrest, the Detective Branch has failed to make any case against him – meanwhile, his family in Britain are desperately worried that he could face the death penalty if charged, or that his health will fail in detention.”


This report prepared by Reprieve.