On September 12, 2020, Mamunur Rashid Nomani, chief news editor of privately owned The Daily Shahnama newspaper and editor of the privately owned news website Barisal Khabar, was severely assaulted and detained by local officials and political operatives in the south-central city of Barisal, according to news reports and Nomani, who spoke to CPJ by phone. The journalist told CPJ in early 2022 that he continued to face legal proceedings and threats because of his reporting on a local mayor of a municipal administration.
On the evening of September 12, 2020, Nomani and his two friends approached and greeted Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah, the mayor of the Barisal City Corporation, a municipal administration that oversees the development and maintenance of the city. Abdullah appeared on a Facebook Live in the area earlier that evening.
Nomani said that Abdullah slapped him, shouted and cursed at him and his friends, criticized his report published on August 29, 2020, in Barisal Khabar regarding the Barisal City Corporation’s alleged lack of action to address flooding in the city, and accused him of “reporting against [him].”
Abdullah was at the scene with around nine of his associates, comprised of Barisal City Corporation employees, and leaders of the ruling Awami League party and Chhatra League organization, the student wing of the Awami League, the journalist said. Abdullah is the general secretary of the Barisal branch of the Awami League, according to Nomani.
Abdullah ordered his associates to confiscate the mobile phones of the journalist and his two friends, before Abdullah and his associates submerged the journalist into the Kirtankhola River for several minutes, Nomani said. After taking him out of the water, Abdullah and Syed Ahmed Manna, a ward councilor of the Barisal City Corporation who was present at the scene, beat him repeatedly with an iron rod as four of Abdullah’s associates held him down, according to the journalist.
Throughout the incident, Nomani fell in and out of consciousness, broke three of his fingers, and sustained painful injuries across his body, specifically his head and chest, according to the journalist and copies of his medical reports, which CPJ reviewed.
Nomani told CPJ that he believes Abdullah targeted him due to his report, adding that his two friends were not submerged in the water, nor were they attacked as severely as the journalist.
After the alleged assault, Abdullah’s associates took Nomani and his two friends to Barisal’s Kotwali police station, where he fully regained consciousness, he said, adding that police filed an application at the Barisal Metropolitan Magistrate Court for the three men to be transferred to the Barisal Central Jail, without being produced in front of a magistrate, which would allow the judiciary to assess their state of health.
Syed Ahmed Manna, a ward councilor of the Barisal City Corporation who was present at the scene with Abdullah, filed a complaint against Nomani and his friends, alleging that the three had secretly recorded videos of Abdullah, his wife, and children while they were going for a walk in the area around 1:30 a.m. on September 13, 2020 in violation of the Digital Security Act, according to news reports and Nomani.
Nomani told CPJ that he denies these allegations and claimed that the alleged assault occurred around 10:30 p.m., and he was brought to the police station before 1:30 a.m., adding that he could not have recorded such videos because Abdullah’s associates confiscated his phone.
Barisal police sent the mobile phones of the three accused to the Dhaka police’s criminal investigation department for forensic review, Nomani said, adding that to date, the department has not produced a forensic report detailing its findings and the phones have not been returned.
Later on September 13, Mohammed Nurul Islam, the then officer-in-charge of the Kotwali police station, filed a first information report, the first step of a police investigation, against Nomani and his two friends, according to news reports and a copy of the report, which CPJ reviewed.
Islam claimed that when Abdullah and his family sensed that they were being filmed, the journalist and his friends attempted to flee, but were chased and arrested by police at the scene, according to those sources.
The first information report accused Nomani and his two friends of violating sections of the Digital Security Act pertaining to unauthorized collection of identity information and holding or transferring data illegally, according to those sources.
Those two offenses can each carry a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 taka (US$4,674 to $9,348).
Nomani did not receive medical attention for his injuries throughout his 17-day detention,according to the journalist, who said that on September 22, the 10th day of his detention, he was taken to a local hospital in Barisal on Abdullah’s instruction, where his broken fingers were x-rayed. The journalist did not receive further medical treatment before he was returned to jail, he said.
It was not until Nomani was released on interim bail on September 29, 2020, that the journalist received medical attention for his broken fingers and other injuries, he said.
The Digital Security Act proceedings against Nomani continue as of early February 2022, and Nomani must appear in court every month, as he has not yet been granted permanent bail, he said, adding that police have yet to file a chargesheet in the case.
Nomani told CPJ that in January 2021 and December 2021, respectively, Abdullah and Manna asked Nomani’s colleagues at The Daily Shahnama if the journalist was still in Barisal and threatened him, saying he should leave the city. Two witnesses supporting Abdullah also approached Nomani and pressured him to leave the city in August 2021 and fall 2021, according to the journalist.
Abdullah did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email and messaging app. Manna and Azimul Karim, the newly appointed officer-in-charge of Barisal’s Kotwali police station, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app. The Awami League, Chhatra League, and media officer of the Dhaka criminal investigation department did not respond to CPJ’s emailed requests for comment.
Editor’s note: The third paragraph has been updated to identify Abdullah’s current association with the Barisal Awami League and the fifteenth paragraph has been changed to accurately reflect the penalties under the Digital Security Act.