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Bangladesh 27 December 2002

High Court rules Saleem Samad’s imprisonment is illegal

The High Court said on 14 January the government had failed to prove that Samad, who is also the Reporters Without Borders correspondent in Bangladesh, had been involved in "anti-government activities." His detention was therefore illegal, it said. He was arrested last 29 November under the emergency Special Powers Act. His family are trying to get the necessary papers for his release from prison at Kashimpur, in Joydevpur district north of Dhaka. The High Court had already ordered his release on 24 December, but the government refused to comply.


10.01.03

Journalist and human rights activist Shahriar Kabir was released from prison in the southeastern city of Chittagong on 7 January, a month after being arrested for giving an interview to journalists from the British TV station Channel 4. Three days earlier, the High Court had said he was being illegally detained under the Special Powers Act and ordered him freed within 24 hours. The government then tried to maintain his 90-day detention, saying the court’s ruling had not been officially received at the prison. His family and a group of local intellectuals greeted him at the prison gates. He told reporters the government had wanted to take revenge against him. He also denounced the torture and ill-treatment of other journalists in the country’s jails. Kabir survived an attempt by Islamists to kill him in Chittagong in 2001.

Muntasir Mamun, an academic and newspaper columnist, was released from the Dinajpur district prison on 9 January by order of the High Court. He had been arrested the same day as Kabir and also jailed for a month under the Special Powers Act.


6.01.03

Saleem Samad secretly transferred to new prison and accused of being part of "international conspiracy"

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) expressed its great concern today for the physical safety of journalist Saleem Samad after the government sent him secretly to a prison in Gazipur, north of Dhaka, more than a month after being arrested for working with journalists from the British TV station Channel 4.

"Islamist and hardline newspapers are feeding false news to their readers about a supposed international plot against Bangladesh but the government had not managed to come up with a shred of evidence against Samad," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to interior minister Altaf Hossein Chowdhury.

"We demand that the rule of law be respected and that the High Court order to release Samad be obeyed," he said.

"How can your government accuse Samad, who works for Pakistan’s Daily Times and the Indian news website Tehelka.com, which is being harassed by the Indian government, of being a secret agent of India in a plot against Bangladesh?" he asked. "It just doesn’t add up."

Samad’s family told Reporters Without Borders that he had been secretly transferred on 1 January from Dhaka prison to one in Gazipur (60 kms north of Dhaka). They and his lawyer have not been allowed to see him for the past week.

The government has until 7 January to answer a request by the High Court to provide its reason for continuing to hold Samad under the Special Powers Act. But police and state security agents seem unable to produce any evidence against him.

The High Court ordered him to be released on bail on 24 December but the government refused to do so and on 31 December tried to get court permission to take him back to police headquarters for further interrogation. He was tortured during earlier questioning.

Islamist newspapers, especially the dailies Inquilab and Sangram, continue to accuse Samad and other journalists of being part of an "international plot" against Bangladesh. They and another paper, Manavzamin, each published an identical article on 31 December about an "international conspiracy" led by the Channel 4 team, including Samad, and the Indian secret service.

Hundreds of journalists have called for Samad’s release by signing an international petition available at the website www.rsf.org and many other appeals, including one from Channel 4, have been sent to the government. Amnesty International has also launched an international campaign for his release.


26.12.02

Special powers used to hold correspondent Saleem Samad for another month

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today voiced its outrage at the Bangladeshi government’s decision to use the Special Powers Act to hold journalist Saleem Samad for another month. The one-month extension was obtained on 24 December, the same day that the high court ruled that Samad should be released on bail. Samad, who is Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent ,was arrested on 29 November in connection with his work for two European journalists from Britain’s Channel 4 television who were preparing a documentary on the political situation in Bangladesh.

"The government took an unjustified and abusive decision just as Samad’s family and friends were getting ready to celebrate his release on the high court’s orders," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury calling for Samad’s immediate release and for the charges of "conspiracy" and "sedition" to be dropped.

"One wonders why Samad is still in prison while the principal accused persons, Zaiba Malik, Bruno Sorrentino and Priscilla Raj, have already been released," Ménard said. "If the Dhaka government wants to take Reporters Without Borders to task for denouncing repeated press freedom violations in Bangladesh, it should use the international judicial system and stop harassing our correspondent."

Malik and Sorrentino, the European journalists who made up the Channel 4 team, were expelled from Bangladesh on 11 December. Raj, a human rights activist who was interpreting for the Channel 4 team, was released on 22 December.

The government has given no details of its reasons for getting Samad’s detention extended under the Special Powers Act, under which thousands of abusive detentions have been made since its adoption in 1974. Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia promised to repeal the act during last year’s election campaign, but her government has used it to jail dozens of its opponents and journalists since October 2001. In 2000, a parliamentary enquiry found that 80 per cent of the proceedings initiated by the Bangladeshi authorities under this act failed to prosper in the courts.

Shahriar Kabir, a journalist and human rights activist, has also been detained since 8 December under the Special Powers Act for having given testimony to the Channel 4 team on the political situation. He was transferred to Gazipur prison, north of Dhaka, on 22 December. Another human rights activist who had assisted the Channel 4 team, Mainul Islam Khan, had to flee the country for fear of being arrested.


24.12.02

The government delays the release of Saleem Samad

The government refused to allow the release today of Saleem Samad, ordered by the High Court on 23 December. Because of the Christmas holidays, he cannot now be freed until 26 December. Friends of Samad, who is local correspondent of Reporters Without Borders, fear the government might use the Special Powers Act to extend his imprisonment by a month. The Act is being used to hold journalist and human rights campaigner Shahriar Kabir, who was arrested on 8 December.


23.12.02

Priscilla Raj freed after one month in detention. High court orders release of Saleem Samad

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) today welcomed yesterday’s release of human rights activist Priscilla Raj and the high court’s decision today to order the release of journalist Saleem Samad on bail. The two were arrested in connection with their work for a team from Britain’s Channel 4 television.

The organisation also called on the government and judicial authorities to drop all charges against Raj and Samad, as well as a third Bangladeshi national who assisted the Channel 4 team, human rights activist Mainul Islam Khan, and the Channel 4 team itself, Zaiba Malik and Bruno Sorrentino. Malik and Sorrentino were expelled from Bangladesh on 11 December, while Khan fled the country to avoid arrest.

Raj, who worked as an interpreter for the Channel 4 team, was freed from Dhaka prison five days after her lawyers obtained a high court ruling in favour of her release on bail. She confirmed to the press that she was subjected to psychological and physical torture, including electric shocks.

It is thought that Samad, a Reporters Without Borders correspondent, could be freed tomorrow if the authorities do not obstruct implementation of the high court decision, issued in response a petition by his lawyer Amir ul-Islam. Samad, who worked as a fixer for the Channel 4 team, has also been tortured during interrogation sessions.

A fourth Bangladeshi national, journalist and human rights activist Shahriar Kabir, was arrested on 8 December because he had given testimony to the Channel 4 team about the political situation in Bangladesh. He was tortured during an interrogation session and suffered a heart attack. He was transferred to Gazipur prison (north of Dhaka) on 22 December.


18.02.02

Campaign for the release of Saleem Samad and Priscilla Raj, held without charge

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today reiterated its calls for the release of journalist Saleem Samad and human rights activist Priscilla Raj, who were arrested on 25 and 29 November in connection with their work for European television journalists Zaiba Malik (Britain) and Bruno Sorrentino (Italy). The high court today ruled that Raj should be released on bail, but the authorities have not yet complied with the ruling.

Raj was detained while interpreting for Malik and Sorrentino, who were working for Britain’s Channel 4. She had undergone torture during interrogation sessions, including torture by electric shock. Samad, who is a Reporters Without Borders correspondent, was working as a fixer for the European journalists. He has been held for 20 days in Dhaka prison and has been beaten during interrogation by the police and intelligence services. The two European journalists, who were also originally detained, were expelled from Bangladesh on 11 December.

Reporters Without Borders deplores the fact that the European journalists’s Bangladeshi assistants are still being detained although the European journalists themselves were released. "This case has already gone on too long. It should be closed, no further action should be taken, and no charges should be pressed against Samad or Raj," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said.

Since their release, Malik and Sorrentino have called for the release of their assistants. "We are very concerned that Priscilla and Saleem are still being held without charge," Malik wrote on 13 December. "We are relieved to have been released and it makes no sense to hold on to Priscilla and Saleem any longer. We appeal to the Bangladeshi authorities to release them too, and to ensure their future safety and their families’ safety."

More than 550 persons, including many journalists, have already signed the petition for the release of Samad and Raj which is still available on the Reporters Without Borders website (www.rsf.org). Bangladeshi journalist Tipu Sultan, the recent recipient of a Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) award, has said this about Samad: "After having been attacked in 2001 by the men of an Awami League member of parliament, I received the support of many people in Bangladesh including Saleem Samad. He provided international organisations with information about the way MP Joynal Hazari’s men tried to kill me. Samad is a press freedom activist and a serious journalist. I am sure he would do nothing against our country. I call on Mrs. Khaleda Zia’s government to free him and end the threats against his family."

Samad’s immediate family has had to go into hiding in Dhaka because the police threatened to arrest Samad’s young son Atisha. Samad’s arrest has had a traumatic effect on Atisha at a moment when he is about to take important school exams.

Muntasir Mamun and Shahriar Kabir, both journalists and human rights activists, have also been detained by police since 8 December for having given testimony to the Channel 4 team on the political situation in Bangladesh. Kabir was tortured during interrogation and suffered a heart attack. Finally, a press freedom activist who had assisted the Channel 4 team, Mainul Islam Khan, had to flee the country for fear of being arrested.

Meanwhile, the government of Bangladesh has still not given any response to the visa request made Reporters Without Borders’ secretary-general on 4 December. The embassy of Bangladesh in Paris has said it could take "several weeks."


Two British TV journalists freed but two local colleagues stay in prison and two others are arrested

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) welcomed today’s release by the Bangladeshi government of two British TV journalists after more than two weeks in detention for alleged anti State activities but called for the "immediate and unconditional" release of their local assistants who remained in prison and were being treated as criminal and plotters.

The journalists, reporter Zaiba Malik and cameraman Bruno Sorrentino, of the British TV station Channel 4, were freed and deported a few hours later. Two Bangladeshis who had worked with them - journalist Saleem Samad (photo), the local correspondent of Reporters Without Borders, and interpreter Priscilla Raj - were not freed.

The press freedom organisation also asked the government to explain why two local journalists and human rights activists, Muntasir Mamun and Shahriar Kabir, were arrested on 8 December, apparently on suspicion of having connections with the British journalists. Kabir had a heart attack while being interrogated at a police station during the night of 10-11 December but his doctor and family were not allowed to see him. Both men were due to be sent to Dhaka prison on 11 December.

"The jailing and deporting of Malik and Sorrentino proves that it was a political matter seeking to frighten off foreign journalists wanting to report freely on the situation in the country," said Reporters Without Border secretary-general Robert Ménard. "We have witnessed a parody of justice and noted the ill-treatment of Samad under interrogation. Now we have a double-standard - one for European journalists and another for their Bangladeshi colleagues," he said.

Announcing the release of the Channel 4 journalists, foreign affairs minister Reaz Rahman told a press conference the government had made an "extraordinary gesture" by freeing them after they had apologised for investigating without press visas the presence of Al-Qaeda militants in Bangladesh. He said they had agreed not to use any of the film they had shot.

Rahman said the cases of Samad and Raj would be considered later in the light of "the laws of the motherland." Samad, who was arrested in Dhaka on 29 November, four days after Malik and Sorrentino, said he had been beaten in prison by a policeman, Kohinoor Miah, during interrogation.

The two Channel 4 journalists were arrested on 25 November, along with Raj and their driver Mujib (since released), as they were about to cross the eastern border into India at Benapole. Since then, police have persistently obstructed the course of justice.

Mamun, a columnist and academic, and Kabir, a freelance journalist and human rights activist, were picked up at their homes for no apparent reason, but sources in Dhaka said their arrest could be to do with the police investigation of the Channel 4 journalists. Kabir was jailed for more than two months at the end of 2001 for investigating violence against Hindus. He was released on bail but still faces charges of "sedition."

A petition for the release of Samad and Raj can be found and signed at www.rsf.org


Application for Samad’s release on bail rejected

Saleem Samad appeared on 9 December before the judge handling his case and after a hearing of only a few minutes, his lawyers’ application for his release on bail was rejected. However the judge said they and Samad’s relatives could visit him in prison. He seemed to be in good health.


Samad transferred to Dhaka central prison, legal procedures still held up

The police transferred Reporters Without Borders correspondent Saleem Samad to Dhaka central prison on 4 December after a hearing at which his lawyers and family were unable to gain access to him. Although he had been interrogated for five days, the police handled his transfer to prison in such a way that his lawyer was unable to obtain his signature to a document granting power of attorney, which would have enabled the lawyer to take additional legal initiatives for his release.

The next hearing is due to take place on 9 December. But certain sources in Dhaka said the officers of the Criminal Investigation Department, now in charge of the case, could resume interrogating Samad after the festivities ending the month of Ramadan

Meanwhile, Samad’s family has continued to receive threats from police and members of the secret services. His younger brother Shamim, who had filed a request for his release on bail, was himself threatened with arrest and had to go into hiding for several days. His father, Abdus Samad, 81, was obliged to get up in the middle of the night to answer questions from police officers, who raided and searched the family home at least three times. His sister-in-law has been receiving daily threats. His wife and son have gone into hiding.

Journalists Zaiba Malik and Bruno Sorrentino of Britain’s Channel 4 television and their translator Priscilla Raj were taken to Dhaka prison on 2 December, while their driver was released the same day. Lawyers and diplomats finally obtained access to them in the prison at 8 p.m. on 2 December. Previously, the police had refused to comply with a high court of justice decision authorising access. Representatives of the Italian and British embassies said the two journalists and their translator had not been beaten during interrogation. The prison governor received the journalists in his office before they were taken to their cells.

The authorities have still not told the lawyers what exactly their clients are being charged with. The court has simply said that the two European journalists are accused of entering Bangladesh on "false identities" and "conspiring against the country".


Reporters Without Borders starts worldwide petition to free the Channel 4 journalists and its local correspondent Samad

Reporters Without Borders has posted on its website (www.rsf.org) a petition to Bangladesh prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia calling for the release of its local correspondent, Saleem Samad, and two journalists of the British television station Channel 4, Zaiba Malik and Bruno Sorrentino, as well as their translator Priscilla Raj.

They are detained in Dhaka and have been accused of "sedition", which can carry the death penalty.

Reporters Without Borders calls on journalists everywhere, along with human rights campaigner and the general public, to sign the petition for their release. Journalists, even if they work without special visas, can under no circumstances be considered as people engaged in "underground" and "dangerous anti-state activities."

Bangladesh has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, whose article 19 guarantees press freedom.

A protest demonstration was held in front of the press club in Dhaka on 3 December.

Sign the petition




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