Missing Bangladeshi Journalist in Jail After Alleged Sojourn in India

Prapti Rahman
Dhaka
2020-05-04
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200504-BD-Kajol-1000.jpg Police take journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol to a court in Jessore district after he was found in Benapole area near the India border, May 03, 2020.
BenarNews

A Bangladeshi journalist reported missing in March as cases were being filed against him under the Digital Security Act is now in jail after officials said they found him near the border with India.

Border guards on Sunday arrested Shafiqul Islam Kajol, 51, as he walked into Bangladesh from India with no passport. Police brought him to a court in southwestern Jessore district, on the West Bengal border, and he was sent to jail, according to multiple accounts.

Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, who oversees both police and the border guards, said Monday that he was flummoxed by the case.

“Actually, I do not know where he had been for 54 days. But he was arrested from the Benapole border while coming to Bangladesh from India. We have to investigate,” Khan told BenarNews.

“I spoke with my father. I do not know where he had been for 54 days. Now, our main target is to get him out of jail,” Kajol’s son, Monorom Polok, told BenarNews.

According to his lawyer, Kajol was initially granted bail on a charge of illegal entry, but was then rearrested under Section 54 of the Bangladeshi criminal code, which allows detention of a person based on “reasonable suspicion.”

“The court granted him bail for the intrusion case. Later, police told the court they had again arrested Kajol ... as he faced three cases under the Digital Security Act in Dhaka,” lawyer Debashish Das told BenarNews.

“The judge asked police to submit an updated report on existing cases against Shafiqul by May 19, and then he will rule about it,” Das said.

Missing since early March

Kajol, a photojournalist and editor of the fortnightly magazine Pokkhokal, had been missing since March 10, a day after a lawmaker with the ruling Awami League lawmaker Saifuzzaman Shikhor filed a criminal defamation suit against him and 31 others.

Awami League activists filed two more cases against Kajol on March 10 and 11. One of them accused Kajol of committing extortion by “obtaining information illegally” and publishing “false, intimidating and defamatory” material on Facebook and Messenger, according to Amnesty International.

The Digital Security Act, which went into effect in September 2018, includes harsh prison sentences for online defamation, insulting a person’s religion and other offenses. Critics have complained that it impedes free speech.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom advocacy group, on Sunday urged police to release Kajol and drop all charges against him.

“Bangladesh police must immediately put an end to the long ordeal of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, missing for 53 days, and release him from custody,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator.

“Kajol is a victim, not a criminal. It’s an abuse of authority to subject Kajol to detention and interrogation.”

Kajol resurfaced on World Press Freedom Day, Amnesty International noted in a separate statement. It said that while many governments were justified in combatting misinformation about COVID-19, some were using the moment “as a pretext to crack down on critical voices.”

In Bangladesh, “at least 20 journalists have been recently intimidated, assaulted or harassed by members of the ruling party, and in some cases detained and accused of criminal offenses by the police for reporting pilferage, corruption and lack of accountability in the relief distribution meant for the poor during the lockdown,” it said, citing the Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh.

Amnesty noted that BenarNews itself had been blocked since it reported on an internal U.N. memo leaked in late March estimating that Bangladesh could see as many as two million deaths as a result of the pandemic without interventions.

Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka has contributed to this report.

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