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Reporter tortured by elite crime force in act of reprisal against newspaper

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders calls on civilian and military authorities to draw the appropriate conclusions from the case of F.M. Masum, a journalist employed by the English-language daily "The New Age", who was arrested and tortured by an elite crime and counter-terrorist force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), on 22 October 2009 in Dhaka.

Masum told Reporters Without Borders from his hospital bed that he thinks he will take months to recover from his injuries.

"It is encouraging that the authorities have responded to this incident by creating a commission of enquiry," Reporters Without Borders said. "The torturers must be punished and Masum must be compensated. But more importantly, the government must give the security forces, including the RAB, clear instructions to put a stop to arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of journalists and human rights activists."

Members of an RAB unit identified as RAB-10 entered Masum's home on 22 October and tortured him while others pretended to discover drugs there. They then took him to their headquarters in Dhalpur and held him for about 10 hours, torturing him and threatening to kill him with the aim of extracting a confession.

Masum said the police officers vented on him the rage they felt towards "The New Age"'s editor, Nurul Kabir. The newspaper has carried articles linking the RAB to extrajudicial executions and drug cases. Masum was finally freed after "The New Age" interceded on his behalf.

The RAB issued a statement on 24 October expressing regret about the incident. The RAB director general told "The Daily Star" that a commission had been set up to investigate and take measures against those responsible for mistreating Masum.

Other arrests have marred the record of the new civilian government as it completes its first year in office. Hasibur Rahman Bilu, "The Daily Star"'s correspondent in the northern city of Bogra, was held for several hours on trumped-up charges on 19 October. Bilu told Reporters Without Borders he was in Malaysia when, according to complaints brought against him, he allegedly tried to extract money from individuals on false pretences. He added that a former official was involved in this act of harassment.

Bangladesh rose more than 10 places in the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index but it is still in the bottom third (121st out of 175 countries).

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