Honorable Prime Minister
Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Prime Minister’s Office
Old Sangsad Bhaban Tejgaon, Dhaka-1215, Bangladesh
Honorable Prime Minister:
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that champions press freedom around the world, writes to ask you to arrange for the immediate and unconditional release of jailed journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, whose ill health makes him especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection, potentially putting his life in danger.
Kajol, a photographer and editor of the biweekly Pakkhakal magazine, disappeared on March 10 only to reappear near the border with India in early May, blindfolded and apparently held against his will during that time. His disappearance followed the filing of three separate cases against him in Dhaka under the Digital Security Act for alleged derogatory online postings. After his reappearance, Kajol was immediately arrested on trespassing charges, granted bail, then subsequently rearrested and then held under Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPJ documented at the time. He was transferred to a jail in Dhaka and has been repeatedly denied bail, most recently on September 14, according to news reports.
Kajol is suffering from a variety of physical ailments. He has told his son, who spoke to CPJ, that he has trouble seeing after being blindfolded for 52 days. Additionally, his left arm is paralyzed, and he was vomiting, including vomiting blood, his son said. The Daily Star reported that many guards at the prison where Kajol is being held have been infected with COVID-19. Kajol is now suffering from a fever and needs immediate medical attention, his son told CPJ.
The World Health Organization has been explicit about the increased vulnerability of detainees to contract COVID-19. In jails, overcrowding and poor health care services aid the spread of the disease, and so far at least two journalists, in Egypt and Honduras, have died from COVID-19 infections contracted in custody. Imprisoned journalists have no control over their surroundings, cannot choose to isolate, and are often denied necessary medical care. In addition, some individuals appear to be at particular risk of severe illness or death linked to COVID-19, including people with pre-existing medical conditions.
We remain very concerned about the indiscriminate use of the Digital Security Act against Kajol and other journalists in Bangladesh, and have documented many misuses of this law against the press. In a meeting with CPJ in December 2017, then Minister of Information Hasanul Haq Inu admitted police had misused the predecessor law, Section 57 of the Information and Communication Act, against journalists and promised that safeguards would be introduced to prevent this in the new Digital Security Act. Unfortunately, this was not done and, as a result, many journalists, including Kajol, have been unfairly targeted by the law.
The current danger to Kajol is significant. We call on you to instruct the Home Affairs Minister to drop the charges against him immediately. At a minimum, we ask that you instruct the Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to stop opposing bail, so that Kajol can be released and recover his health at home.
Committee to Protect Journalists
CC: Mr. Anisul Huq
Minister of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
People Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected] (public relations officer)
CC: Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan
Minister of Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
WhatsApp# +880 1711-541569