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Government challenged over torture of editor in Sylhet

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called on the interim government to order an investigation into the torture and abuse of power against journalist Noor Ahmed in Sylhet, north-eastern Bangladesh.

The worldwide press freedom organisation was reacting to a just-released investigative report by the human rights organization Odhikar, revealing that the journalist was arrested and tortured in 2007 by members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB 9) in Sylhet.

The case recalls that of journalists Tasneem Khalil and Jahangir Alam Akash, who were also arrested and tortured by the security services in 2007.

Noor Ahmed, known as Ahmed Noor, editor-in-chief of the local daily "Dainik Sylhet Protidin" and secretary general of the Sylhet Press Club, was arrested on 7 April 2007 by members of the RAB 9 (Bangladesh's elite crime force) and taken by force, blindfolded, into a waiting truck.

Noor Ahmed told Odhikar that he was tortured several times. First, he was beaten with a stick from his knees to his feet for 20 minutes. He was then questioned about his implication in a case of extortion and beaten each time he denied it.

After a night of physical and mental torture, he signed a paper which he was unable to read and was then taken to Sylhet police station.

"The information made public by Odhikar proves that Ahmed Noor had no involvement in the case against him. It is appalling that local officials, including those responsible for law and order, can attack journalists with complete impunity," Reporters Without Borders said.

"The authorities must not remain silent on this, particularly ahead of elections. The justice system must establish the truth and punish the perpetrators of this unacceptable act."

Noor Ahmed was arrested at the same time as two other journalists, Sajol Daash, editor of the daily "Dainik Khabor", and Apurbo Sharma, reporter for the daily "Dainik Jugveri", on the same charges. During his interrogation under torture, Sajol Daash apparently implicated Noor Ahmed.

He had hardly been cleared, when another complaint was made against Noor Ahmed by Jamal Uddin, deputy head of RAB 9, who accused him of fraud, extortion and working on a newspaper at the same time as for a public body. The editor was finally acquitted by the court and released on bail on 3 September 2007.

While he was in prison, RAB officers threatened to imprison him again if he returned to journalism on his release.

The editor of "Dainik Sylhet Protidin" believes Noor Ahmed was charged because he was investigating RAB's illegal activities and an allegation that Sylhet's inspector general of police, M. Shahidullah, was taking bribes. He told Odhikar that his arrest was intended to intimidate other journalists and dissuade them from publishing similar reports.

On 14 May 2007, after "Dainik Sylhet Protidin" published an Odhikar report that was embarrassing for the authorities, RAB agents several times told editors to stop publishing at the paper and threatened to shut it down themselves while Noor Ahmed was still in prison.

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