Investigative reporter detained in Bangladesh

New York, October 24, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the detention of Bangladeshi reporter Jahangir Alam Akash, who was taken from his home in the northwestern city of Rajshahi by members of an elite government task force on Tuesday night.

Akash, a reporter for the Bengali-language daily Dainik Sangbad, was jailed on an extortion charge, the second such allegation made against him this month, said Mainul Islam Khan, a press advocate for the Bangladesh Center for Development Journalism and Communication. Akash was still being held and had not appeared in court as of late this evening. Prior to the arrest, Akash told CPJ that he had been charged on a separate extortion allegation.

Local press freedom groups say authorities are targeting Akash in reprisal for his reporting. The new complaint was filed by an individual who had been jailed on an assault charge after an investigation by Akash, the Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights said today. The Rapid Action Battalion, an elite anticrime and antiterrorism force under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, took Akash into custody.

Last week, in an e-mail interview with CPJ, Akash said that an influential local contractor, Mahfuzul Alam Loton, had accused him of extorting money. Akash had reported critically on Loton’s family and associates on at least three occasions.

“We are troubled by the detention of Jahangir Alam Akash who has a history of being harassed because of his investigative reporting,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to release him immediately.”

Approximately 50 local journalists expressed their concern over the earlier charge in a statement issued on Monday, according to The Daily Star.

Akash has faced many instances of harassment. In August, he told CPJ he had been threatened by a leader of the Rapid Action Battalion. Akash worked for the television news channel CSB until it closed permanently, shortly after its transmission was suspended for a week by the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission. The 24-hour network had received notice from the Press Information Department not to broadcast provocative news, according to CPJ research.