New York, January 25, 2023 – Bangladesh authorities must immediately and unconditionally release journalist Raghunath Kha and investigate allegations that he was electrocuted and beaten in police custody, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
At around 11 a.m. on Monday, January 23, plainclothes police officers detained Kha, a correspondent for the privately owned broadcaster Deepto TV and privately owned newspaper Dainik Projonmo Ekattor, according to multiple news reports and a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing safety concerns. Kha was detained after reporting on a land dispute in the Khalishakhali area of the southwestern Satkhira district.
Police arrested Kha and two others, alleging they were involved in an attempted bomb blast in coordination with landless people in the area, and authorities initially denied that Kha was in custody, according to those sources.
When the journalist appeared in court the following day, he was unable to stand properly and said that police severely beat him, electrocuted him, and threatened to kill him if he continued reporting on landless people, the anonymous source told CPJ.
During that hearing, the court ordered Kha to be held in the Satkhira jail while his case is investigated. Police have not provided copies of the first information reports in Kha’s case, which would show the specific allegations against him, according to that source.
“Bangladeshi authorities’ arrest and alleged maltreatment of journalist Raghunath Kha constitute only the latest attack on press freedom in the country, where law enforcement continues to retaliate against journalists with raging impunity,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release Kha, drop all cases against him, and conduct a swift investigation into claims that police physically abused him.”
Authorities did not produce Kha in court until about 5 p.m. on Tuesday, that source said, in apparent violation of Bangladesh’s code of criminal procedure, which provides that police must present an arrested person before a magistrate within 24 hours.
That source told CPJ that they believe authorities targeted the journalist in retaliation for his reporting highlighting the struggles of landless people in their conflict with land grabbers allegedly supported by police.
In recent months, Satkhira Police Superintendent Kazi Moniruzzaman repeatedly threatened Kha with arrest and legal retaliation in retaliation for his reporting, that source said, adding that the journalist submitted a written complaint sometime about those threats to Moinul Haque, the deputy inspector-general of the Khulna division police, which oversees the Satkhira branch of the force.
No action was taken against Moniruzzaman, that source told CPJ. CPJ emailed Moniruzzaman and Haque and sent them requests for comment via messaging app, but did not receive any replies.
CPJ has previously documented similar allegations of alleged police abuse of detained journalists in Bangladesh. Journalist Shahidul Alam, who was awarded CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2020, told CPJ that police officers beat him in custody. Cartoonist Kabir Kishore told CPJ that authorities beat him and electrocuted his colleague Mushtaq Ahmed, who died in jail.
[Editor’s note: This report has been updated to reflect that one of CPJ’s sources requested not to be named for security reasons.]