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Compassionate release called for in case of Bangladeshi journalist Shafik Rehman

UPDATE: Shafik Rehman was granted bail following extensive media coverage after this action. As of September 2016, however, the charges against him have not been dropped and he still faces a potential death penalty.

To:
Anisul Huq
Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs
Government of Bangladesh

Dear Mr Huq,

We are writing to you as international press freedom, freedom of expression and media advocacy groups about the ongoing detention of Shafik Rehman, an elderly journalist in custody in Dhaka, to set out several serious concerns about his treatment.

We were pleased to note that on Sunday 17 July 2016 the Supreme Court granted Mr Rehman's request for leave to appeal his detention.

Detention without charge

Mr Rehman was arrested on 16 April 2016 and denied bail by the High Court on 7 June 2016. After more than three months in detention, he has still not been charged with any crime.

He is being investigated by the Bangladesh Detective Branch, who entered his house without a warrant, inexplicably posing as a camera crew, on the day of his arrest.

The detectives missed a deadline on 16 June 2016 to submit a report to Metropolitan Magistrate SM Masud Zaman in Dhaka outlining the alleged case against Mr Rehman. The court extended the deadline until 26 July 2016, despite the fact that the First Information Report in this case was initially filed in August 2015 and the investigation period in the case has expired. On 26 July 2016, the police once again missed the deadline to submit their investigation report and a further deadline has now been set for 30 August 2016 – more than 100 days after his arrest.

Under international law, the Bangladesh authorities have a duty to promptly inform Mr Rehman of the nature of the case against him and either charge or release him. The delays in this case suggest that there is no evidence against Mr Rehman, and that he should be released.

Journalistic career

Mr Rehman is a professional journalist who has spent a lifetime working for freedom of expression. We are concerned that his arrest represents an attack on press freedoms and forms part of a worrying trend in Bangladesh.

At the time of his arrest, Mr Rehman was editor of the popular monthly magazine Mouchake Dhil, with experience as a TV host and producer. Previously, he has worked for the BBC and edited Jai Jai Din, a mass-circulation Bengali daily.

The arrest of journalists like Mr Rehman raises concerns about the state of press freedoms in Bangladesh, where several prominent editors have been arrested in recent years.

Denied bail

Mr Rehman is an elderly man in poor health. He spent the first weeks of detention in solitary confinement, without a bed. His health deteriorated and he was rushed to hospital.

His family are seriously concerned about his health failing in prison, and he has missed important medical appointments while on remand.

There are therefore strong compassionate grounds for releasing Mr Rehman on bail, while any evidence (if there is any at all) can be gathered without jeopardising his health.

We hope that Mr Rehman's appeal will be an opportunity for the Court to take stock of the serious concerns about the case against Mr Rehman and about his health and well-being while he remains in custody.

We appreciate you hearing our concerns and are grateful for swift action to guarantee Mr Rehman's prompt release.

Yours sincerely,

Index on Censorship
International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Free Media Movement
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
International Press Institute
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
National Union of Somali Journalists
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
PEN American Center
Public Association "Journalists"
Vigilance pour la Démocratie et l’État Civique

Reprieve

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