The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the prolonged detention of journalist Saleem Samad, who remains in government custody on charges of “anti-state activities” after working with a documentary crew for Britain’s Channel 4 “Unreported World” series. On December 24, government authorities ordered that Samad remain in custody for 30 more days, despite a High Court order granting him bail.
CPJ is also concerned that journalist Shahriar Kabir in still in detention after being arrested on December 8. Authorities have said that Kabir is being held in connection with the Channel 4 case, but have offered no further explanation for his arrest. Samad and Kabir are both being detained under the Special Powers Act, which allows authorities to detain anyone suspected of anti-state activities for up to 90 days without trial.
Police have charged Kabir with “anti-state activities,” and authorities recently moved Kabir from Dhaka Central Jail to a jail in the southern city of Chittagong. During a court hearing on December 12, Kabir told investigators that he had been “brutally tortured” in prison and denied food for more than 24 hours, according to Bangladeshi press reports. On January 4, the High Court declared Kabir’s detention illegal and ordered his release within 24 hours. On January 5, the government ignored the ruling and ordered Kabir to remain in detention for 90 more days.
Samad was arrested on November 29 soon after Zaiba Malik and Bruno Sorrentino, Britain-based journalists working on the Channel 4 documentary, were arrested and accused of sedition. Samad had worked as a fixer for Malik and Sorrentino. He is currently being held in Kashimpur jail in Joydevpur, outside the capital, Dhaka.
On December 11, Malik and Sorrentino were released and deported to the United Kingdom.
Priscilla Raj, a Bangladeshi freelance reporter and human rights activist, was also arrested on November 25 and charged with “anti-state activities” for acting as an interpreter for Malik and Sorrentino. On December 22, Raj was released on bail but the charges against her still stand.
Both Raj and Samad have said that they were tortured with electric shocks while in prison, according to CPJ sources in Bangladesh and press reports. On December 4, while being transported back to prison after attending his bail hearing in court, Samad shouted to journalists out the window of his van, “I have been subjected to inhuman torture,” according to Bangladeshi press reports.
As a non-partisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns your government’s complete disregard for the legal process in Bangladesh, under which both Saleem Samad and Shahriar Kabir should have been released on bail. Furthermore, we are gravely concerned by allegations that they may have been tortured while in government custody. CPJ calls for the journalists’ release from prison, and asks that all charges against Samad, Kabir and Raj be immediately and unconditionally dropped. Meanwhile, the allegations of torture must be promptly and thoroughly investigated.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.