South Asia

Rights Organisations Express Concern Over 'Missing' Bangladeshi Journalist

Shafiqul Islam Kajol has been missing for almost a month, a day after a case was registered against him and 31 journalists under the country’s draconian Digital Security Act.

New Delhi: Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a senior Bangladeshi journalist-photographer and the editor of Dainik Pakkhokal, has gone missing from Dhaka since March 10, a day after an FIR was filed against him and 31 other journalists under the country’s draconian Digital Security Act.

According to news reports from Dhaka, Saifuzzaman Shikhor, an MLA from the ruling Awami League and a former personal assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, had filed an FIR against the journalists at Dhaka’s Sher-e-Bangla Nagar police station late on March 9 for publishing and sharing on social media a news report regarding Shamima Noor Papia, the top leader of the party’s women student wing, Jubo Mahila League. Noor was suspended from the League towards the end of February after she was arrested for allegedly committing various crimes, including recovery of “illegal money, arms, ammunitions” during a raid by the Rapid Action Force at her Dhaka house.

Reports said on the afternoon of March 10, 50-year-old Kajol left his home in Dhaka for his office. CCTV footage showed him leaving his office around 6:15 pm, after which he has not been since. Though the police denied arresting him, rights bodies suspect that it is a case of “enforced disappearance”.

An April 8 report in the Dhaka Tribune said, “After dilly-dallying for 10 days, when New Market and Chawkbazar police stations shrugged off their responsibility to take the case saying the incident did not happen in their territories, Chawkbazar police eventually took the case, on March 18, after a court order. And now, they claim to get nothing in the face of ‘coronavirus pandemic’.”

“We believe that he will return soon, though there is no assurance,” Monorom Polok, son of Kajol, told the newspaper.

On April 1, yet another case was filed against Kajol under the Act.

Amnesty International, in a letter to the country’s home minister Asaduzzaman Khan, expressed its “concern about the fate and whereabouts” of Kajol. The rights body said, “It is concerning to note that it (the second case) was issued only three hours after he was last seen on CCTV cameras, and less than 24 hours after the first case was brought against him at 11:55 pm on March 9.”

Also Read: Bangladesh Journalist’s Disappearance Casts Poor Light on Press Freedom

“During the UN Committee Against Torture in July 2019, Bangladesh said that ‘enforced disappearances were not a frequent occurrence’ in the country. It is however important to note, that irrespective of frequency, enforced disappearance is a crime under international law.”

Two other top international rights bodies, Human Rights Watch and the Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ), have also asked the Bangladeshi authorities to take immediate steps to find Kajol and drop the cases against the journalists.

“The case of Shafiqul Islam Kajol is deeply concerning, particularly given Bangladesh authorities’ record of abducting people and holding them in secret detention where their safety and lives are at risk,” Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, reportedly said.

CPJ Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler issued a statement stating, “The disappearance of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol is especially concerning after he was named in a dubious defamation complaint filed by a member of parliament under the draconian Digital Security Act.” He said, “Police need to find Kajol quickly and return him to his family, and ensure that a criminal defamation case does not proceed against him or any other journalist.”