Updated at 7:34 a.m. ET on 2016-04-20
Bangladesh police have arrested an opposition-backed editor on charges of conspiring to kill Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son and are seeking to arrest a former state minister in the same case.
Police on Saturday arrested Shafik Rehman, 81, at his home in Dhaka. Rehman edits a pro-opposition political magazine, Mouchake Dhil.
He was arrested based on evidence provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, according to Sajeeb Wazed Joy, who says he is the target of the plot.
“The U.S. Department of Justice discovered Shafik Rehman’s direct involvement in the plot to kidnap and kill me. They provided this evidence to our government,” Joy wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday.
“… I cannot disclose more, but the evidence is direct and irrefutable,” he wrote.
Joy, who lives in the United States, is widely seen as Sheikh Hasina’s likely successor as leader of the ruling Awami League party.
The U.S. Department of Justice initially did not respond to a BenarNews request for comment. On Tuesday a spokesman for the DOJ, Peter Carr, responded but declined comment.
FBI agent bribed
However, three people have been arrested in the United States in connection with a plot to “locate and harm” a “prominent citizen of Bangladesh,” according to a DOJ statement from September 2015.
From September 2011 to March 2012, FBI special agent Robert Lustyik and another man, Johannes Thaler, solicited bribe payments from Rizve Ahmed “in exchange for Lustyik’s agreement to provide confidential documents and information pertaining to a prominent citizen of Bangladesh whom Ahmed perceived to be a political rival, and whom Ahmed sought to locate and harm,” the statement said.
All three men pleaded guilty and received jail terms, the statement said.
When they pled guilty in October 2014, Thaler and Ahmed admitted that they had exchanged text messages about the scheme, including one about a “contract” that would require Ahmed to pay a “retainer” of $40,000 and a “monthly” payment of $30,000, according to a DOJ statement dated Oct. 17, 2014.
In return, Lustyik and Thaler agreed to “give [Ahmed] everything [they] ha[d] plus set up [the victim] and get the inside from the party,” the earlier statement said.
Lustyik, who had access to confidential documents, got five years in jail while Thaler got 30 months and Ahmed 42 months, the DOJ said.
The Conspiracy Case
The DOJ statement did not mention Shafik Rehman.
Bangladesh police say Rehman is linked to the plot, and they further allege that its mastermind is a U.S.-based leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Mohammad Ullah Mamun, who is Rizve Ahmed’s father.
Based on the U.S. case, the detective branch of the Dhaka police has filed a case against Mamun, according to court documents. But the case has gone no further as he is not in Bangladesh.
“Shafik Rehman was not an accused in the murder conspiracy case. But the police, in the course of the investigation, detected his involvement in the scheme. So, he has been arrested,” police spokesman Maruf Hossain Sarder told BenarNews.
The head of the BNP and Rehman’s wife, Taleya Rehman, both allege that he is a political victim.
“Shafik Rehman is a courageous journalist. He is a committed journalist to uphold the truth. He has been arrested as the government failed to subjugate him. This has exposed the government’s extreme tyrannical attitude,” BNP chief Khaleda Zia said in a statement soon after the arrest.
Taleya Rehman told BenarNews: “The allegations are completely bogus; these are politically motivated.”
AHM Bazlur Rahman, chief executive officer of the Bangladesh NGO Network for Radio and Communication, said Rehman “is a BNP leader more than a journalist.”
“Shafik Rehman was arrested on criminal charge, not for his writing. We think the cases against Mahfuz Anam involved the freedom of expression issue, but not Shafik Rehman’s,” he told BenarNews.
Anam, the editor of The Daily Star, the largest English-language daily in Bangladesh, is facing dozens of criminal lawsuits that began piling up shortly after Wazed lashed out at him on Facebook.
The suits were filed after Anam admitted in a TV interview in February that his paper ran unverified articles in 2007 that were fed by the military and smeared politicians with corruption allegations.
The reports led to arrests of prominent politicians, including Hasina and Zia, when Bangladesh was ruled by a military-backed caretaker government.
“I demand justice,” the PM’s son said on Facebook in February. “I want Mahfuz Anam behind bars and on trial for treason.”
Second arrest sought
Police on Monday submitted a petition in court seeking permission to implicate another individual, Mahmudur Rahman, in the conspiracy case.
Rahman, a former state minister of the BNP government, is already in jail for a corruption case. According to Agence France-Presse, Rahman is the editor of the Amar Desh newspaper, which Bangladeshi authorities shut down in 2013 for allegedly inciting religious tension.
Both Shafik Rehman and Mahmudur Rahman met with conspirators in the United States to discuss the plot, Deputy General Inspector of police Monirul Islam told reporters in Dhaka.
Rahman took over the Bengali-language daily Amar Desh in 2008, but it has since been shuttered by the Awami League government for publishing what it says are unsubstantiated corruption stories implicating Wazed and other AL figures.
An earlier version of this story did not name The Daily Star, the newspaper where Mahfuz Anam is editor.