French journalist detained on visa charges

New York, April 18, 2005—
A French freelance journalist was being held for questioning today in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, after border police arrested him for alleged visa violations last week in the southwestern Satkhira District. The Committee to Protect Journalists is investigating the circumstances behind the arrest.

Police detained Arnaud Mandagaran, 55, and his Indian guide, Mafizul Islam, when they crossed into Bangladesh from India at Bhomra on Friday. Police Inspector General Hadis Uddin confirmed to Reuters that the two were arrested “for suspicious movement.” The following day, Mandagaran was transferred to Dhaka for questioning.

According to the English-language Daily Star, Mandagaran arrived in Bangladesh in late February on a six-month visa and soon traveled to India to film a documentary about the Babri Mosque, which was destroyed by Hindu fundamentalists in 1992. He did not have a valid Indian visa on this trip, but had previously been to the area to film documentaries about sectarian violence, according to local news reports. The precise terms of his Bangladeshi visa were not immediately clear.

Local sources tell CPJ that Mandagaran’s camera and documents were seized by police, and that he is being held in an interrogation cell in Dhaka, where national and military intelligence agents as well as police are due to question him for the next seven days. Islam remains in custody in Satkhira.

The daily Bhohrer Kagoj reported that Mandagaran has been charged with violating the Foreigners Act, which sets visa requirements for foreigners.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety and well being of Arnaud Mandagaran and Mafizul Islam, and call for their immediate release,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.

Foreign journalists are required to apply for journalists’ visas in order to legally travel to Bangladesh. In 2002, two journalists from Britain’s Channel 4 television channel were detained, questioned, and expelled for entering Bangladesh without valid journalists’ visas.