Bangladeshi journalist Zulkarnain Saer Khan says he has been targeted in a campaign that seeks to discredit his work and could potentially endanger his safety. (Photo: Zulkarnain Saer Khan)

Unidentified men attack brother of exiled Bangladeshi journalist Zulkarnain Saer Khan

New York, March 24, 2023—Bangladesh authorities must conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into the recent attack on Mahinur Khan, the brother of exiled journalist Zulkarnain Saer Khan, and ensure the safety of Zulkarnain Saer Khan’s family, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On the evening of March 17, in the capital city of Dhaka, four unidentified men beat Mahinur Khan with iron rods and kicked him while accusing his brother of writing “about the PM [prime minister]” and “against the government,” according to Al-Jazeera and Zulkarnain Saer Khan, who spoke to CPJ by phone. The men took a video of the attack before leaving the scene, Zulkarnain Saer Khan said.

Zulkarnain Saer Khan, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom where he works as a researcher with Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera’s investigative unit, recently published investigative reports on alleged corruption by government officials with the ruling Awami League party, and the country’s expanding surveillance apparatus.

“The attack on the brother of Bangladeshi journalist Zulkarnain Saer Khan is the latest case of the family of journalists in exile being targeted back home,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Bangladesh has built a reputation in this heinous form of transnational vengeance. Authorities must ensure the perpetrators of this attack are held accountable and that the Khan family can live safely.”

Mahinur Khan was hospitalized and sustained a torn ligament in his leg, broken kneecaps, and significant swelling and bruising throughout his body, according to his brother and that Al-Jazeera report.

Locals informed the Khan family that the attackers were supporters of Humayoun Rashid Jony, a Dhaka official and member of the Awami League, Zulkarnain Saer Khan said.

Mahinur Khan’s wife filed a complaint at the Dhaka Mirpur Model Police Station on March 17. The investigating officer in the case, Sub-Inspector Shahin Alam, visited the family’s home to inquire about the attack and said that police were unable to identify any suspects, Zulkarnain Saer Khan told CPJ, adding that no suspects have been apprehended as of March 24.

CPJ contacted Alam via messaging app for comment but did not receive any response.

Following the publication of this alert, Jony responded to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app, saying, “I have no history of violence in my life.” Jony did not immediately respond to CPJ’s calls and messages requesting further comment.

Zulkarnain Saer Khan has contributed to Al-Jazeera, the investigative news website Netra News, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, according to CPJ’s review of his work.

Bangladesh law enforcement have submitted multiple requests to Twitter to remove tweets from Khan’s account, where he frequently posts political news and commentary, including one in November 2022 that alleged Bangladesh government officials had submitted malicious reports to Meta, Facebook’s parent company, resulting in multiple temporary restrictions on the journalist’s Facebook page.

CPJ called and messaged Dhaka police spokesperson Roy Niyati and emailed Prime Minister Hasina’s office and the Awami League for comment, but did not receive any replies.

CPJ has previously documented retaliation against the family members of foreign-based Bangladeshi journalists, including the September 2022 arrests of the brothers of U.K.-based Shamsul Alam Liton and Abdur Rab Bhuttow and the October 2021 arrest of the sister of U.S.-based Kanak Sarwar. Those journalists’ siblings have been released on bail, the journalists told CPJ via messaging app.

[Editors’ note: This article has been changed in its third paragraph to correctly characterize Khan’s employment. The eighth and ninth paragraphs were updated to include Jony’s response to CPJ.]