Rohingya refugees wait for rice delivery during a foggy morning at the Nayapara refugee camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh as pictured on December 25, 2017. Journalists in the refugee camp have been harassed by Bangladesh authorities. (Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Bangladesh authorities harass, threaten two Rohingya journalists

Washington, D.C., August 5, 2021– Bangladesh authorities should immediately cease harassing brothers and colleagues Sayful Arkane, a reporter, and Mohammad Aziz Arkane, a camera operator, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 2, the brothers, who cover Rohingya refugees for the YouTube channel of Rohingya news website The Arakan Times, participated in a meeting between Rohingya refugees, U.N. officials, and officials with the office of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner in Nayapara refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar in southeast Bangladesh, to discuss changes to food ration cards following protests over the issue, according to Mohammad Aziz Arkane and video of the meeting, which CPJ reviewed.

Immediately following the meeting, an officer with the office of Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner ordered police to arrest Mohammad Aziz Arkane, the journalist told CPJ via phone. He said that a police officer grabbed him, put a hand over his mouth to prevent him from screaming, and pulled him backward but that he was able to struggle free.

Since then, he said that he and his brother have fled to separate hiding places to avoid police detection. He told CPJ that police have repeatedly called him since August 2 and demanded his location.

At approximately 2:00 p.m. on August 2, officers with the Armed Police Battalion raided the brothers’ family home in Nayapara refugee camp, interrogated their parents as to their whereabouts, and said that they were searching for them due to their journalistic activities, according to Mohammad Aziz Arkane. He told CPJ that officers referenced videos the brothers produce for The Arakan Times, though did not name specific reports.  

Since August 2, officers with the same unit have visited the brothers’ home multiple times a day searching for the two journalists, Mohammad Aziz Arkane said. When they visited today, they demanded from the brothers’ parents a bribe of 100,000 taka (US$1,179) in order not to file a criminal case against the brothers in retaliation for their journalistic activities, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal by authorities.

“Sayful Arkane and Mohammad Aziz Arkane’s reporting on the living conditions of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is critical work that must be allowed to continue unhindered,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Bangladesh authorities should immediately cease harassing the brothers and their family, and make clear that they will not be subject to arbitrary arrest.”

Shaifur Rahman, a U.K.-based freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, who is familiar with the journalists’ case, confirmed the entirety of Mohammad Aziz Arkane’s account with CPJ via phone. 

The Arakan Times covers human rights and the Rohingya community in Myanmar and across Asia, including news and videos about the impact of coronavirus, floods, and fire incidents in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, according to CPJ’s review.

Shah Rezwan Hayat, Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, did not respond to CPJ’s calls or text requesting comment via messaging app.

Tariqul Islam Tariq, commander of the Armed Police Battalion in Cox’s Bazaar, told CPJ via messaging app that his team in Nayapara refugee camp did not know Sayful Arkane and Mohammad Aziz Arkane, but that he was investigating the claim of the bribe offer.

Editor’s note: Sayful Arkane and Mohammad Aziz Arkane’s positions have been corrected in the first paragraph.