Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today strongly condemned the pre-dawn arrest of its correspondent, Saleem Samad (photo), for having assisted two journalists working for British television’s Channel-4, themselves arrested on 25 November. There has been no news of Samad since his arrest at 3 a.m. today in Dhaka. Another journalist was arrested yesterday in Chittagong for the same reason. In all, at least six persons are currently detained in this case.
"Reporters Without Borders is very disturbed by the arrest of its correspondent, who is a very professional journalist and a longstanding press freedom activist," the organisation’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, said in a letter to Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. "We are calling on the international community, especially the European Union, to take a very firm position in favour of the release of these journalists," Ménard said.
The organisation urged Prime Minister Zia to intervene to ensure that all six detainees are released and that the authorities, who are portraying them as "dangerous conspirators" without any supporting evidence, drop the charges of "sedition."
The authorities have given no information about Samad since his arrest by plain-clothes police at the Dhaka home of a friend, but he is believed to be detained in one of the buildings of the Detective Branch in Dhaka. His arrest was made possible by the indiscriminate telephone tapping being practised by the police. His family, whose home was searched, had to go into hiding after receiving many threats. A police officer even threatened to arrest Samad’s son.
Sumi Khan, a correspondent for the weekly Shaptahik 2000 in the southeastern city of Chittagong, was also detained by police on November 28 for having met with the Channel-4 journalists. Other journalists in both Dhaka and the provinces have told Reporters Without Borders that they also fear being arrested for having met with the British TV crew.
The police have been obstructing justice ever since arresting the Channel-4 crew, British reporter Zaiba Malik and Italian cameraman Bruno Sorrentino, together with their interpreter Pricilla Raj and their driver Mujib, as they were on the point of crossing the border into India near the eastern city of Benapole on 25 November. The police have still not given lawyers or diplomats access to the journalists. A police officer who gave information to the press has been removed from the case. On 26 November, a Dhaka court ordered that the two foreign journalists be detained for five days.