High Court orders journalist’s release

New York, January 14, 2003—The High Court in the capital, Dhaka, ruled today that the government’s detention of journalist and press freedom activist Saleem Samad is illegal and ordered his release.

On December 23, 2002, the court had ordered his release on bail in connection with a sedition case. But on December 24, the day Samad was to be freed, authorities ordered that he remain in custody for 30 more days under the provisions of the Special Powers Act, which allows the preventive detention of anyone suspected of anti-state activities. Today, the High Court voided the second petition.

Samad is being held in Kashimpur Jail in Joydevpur, a town just north of the capital, Dhaka. His release order has not yet reached jail authorities, but his lawyer told CPJ that she expects Samad to be freed by tomorrow.

“CPJ welcomes today’s court order ending Saleem Samad’s long and unjust imprisonment,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that the order is carried out.”

Police arrested Samad on November 29 for his work with a documentary crew that was preparing a report on Bangladesh for the “Unreported World” series on Britain’s Channel 4. Samad, a prominent free-lance journalist and the Bangladesh representative for the French press freedom group Reporters Sans Frontières, had worked for the documentary team as an interpreter.

On November 25, police arrested Zaiba Malik, the reporter for the documentary; Bruno Sorrentino, the film’s director and cameraman; and Priscilla Raj, a free-lance Bangladeshi journalist who also worked for the documentary team as an interpreter. All four journalists were accused of sedition.

Police arrested the journalists for their alleged involvement in “clandestine activities as journalists with an apparent and malicious intent of portraying Bangladesh as an Islamic fanatical country,” said a statement issued by the Bangladeshi government, as reported by the Agence France-Presse news agency.

On December 8, Shahriar Kabir, a journalist and human rights activists whom the crew had interviewed, was also arrested. He was released on January 7. On December 11, authorities released Malik and Sorrentino and deported them to Britain. However, the Bangladeshi journalists remained in jail. Raj was released only on December 23.