Bangladesh authorities detained Kanak Sarwar, a former special correspondent for the privately owned news channel Ekushey TV, from March 3 to November 16, 2015, for alleged sedition after the outlet aired a speech by an opposition figure, according to news reports and Sarwar, who spoke to CPJ via video call in January 2022.
Sarwar was included in CPJ’s prison census, which documented journalists imprisoned for their work as of December 1, 2015, based on information available to CPJ at the time.
On January 5, 2015, Ekushey TV aired a live speech by opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party Vice Chair Tarique Rahman, in which he called for the toppling of the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, according to news reports.
On January 8, a police subinspector opened an investigation accusing Sarwar and Salam of trying to create anarchy by broadcasting Rahman’s speech, according to news reports, which said that Dhaka police arrested Sarwar on March 3.
Sarwar told CPJ that Ekushey TV suspended him in mid-January in what he called a “political” decision.
The journalist said he had limited involvement in broadcasting Rahman’s speech, and that authorities targeted him in retaliation for his work with two Ekushey TV talk shows that showcased public opinions about government, politics, and social issues.
Sarwar told CPJ that shortly after he was arrested, the deputy commissioner of the detective branch of the Dhaka police offered to make him a witness on behalf of the prosecution, but Sarwar refused and was subsequently held on sedition allegations.
During the first five days of Sarwar’s detention in police custody, he was blindfolded, handcuffed tightly behind his back, and subjected to frequent beatings during interrogations without the presence of a lawyer, the journalist told CPJ, adding that after every interrogation session, he received an injection he believed to be a painkiller. He said he was subsequently moved to the overcrowded Dhaka Central Jail for the remainder of his detention.
In April 2015, jail authorities took Sarwar to a hospital due to a heart condition, and a doctor initially recommended he be admitted to the critical care unit, but another doctor subsequently told him that there was no bed for him in any unit of the hospital, he said. Sarwar told CPJ he was subsequently taken back to the jail with prescription medications.
Sarwar’s lawyer applied for bail 25 times before the High Court granted his request on November 10, 2015, according to the journalist, who said that he was released around midnight on November 16 after a Supreme Court chamber judge rejected an appeal filed by the attorney general’s office.
Sarwar told CPJ that he fled Bangladesh in 2016, fearing further retaliation from the government. The Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Court issued an arrest warrant for him after he failed to appear at a hearing in relation to the sedition case in October 2017, and Sarwar was formally charged with sedition in absentia in November 2017, according to news reports.
In October 2021, police in Dhaka arrested Sarwar’s sister, Nusrat Shahrin Raka, and interrogated her about Sarwar’s work. Sarwar later told CPJ that authorities were retaliating against his sister over his criticism of the Bangladesh government on his YouTube channel Kanak Sarwar News.
CPJ also emailed the office of Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner Md. Shafiqul Islam and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January 2022 for comment, but did not receive any replies.