BANGLADESH: Torture of journalist reiterates the necessity for a law to punish the perpetrators

The Asian Human Rights Commission has learned that on 22 October 2009 Mr. F. M. Masum, a journalist of an English language national daily newspaper in Bangladesh, was tortured by members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), at his residence in Dhaka.

The New Age newspaper reports that at around noon on Thursday a team of the RAB-10 raided a house at 67 South Jatrabari where journalist Masum lives as a tenant. The RAB claimed that the landlord was peddling drugs. The paramilitary force members knocked the door of Masum’s flat, when he opened the door the RAB personnel slapped him in the face. They started torturing Masum severely as he introduced himself as a journalist. All the beatings took place in public. As a result of torture Masum sustained serious wounds, into which the RAB personnel rubbed salt. They then took Masum to the headquarters of the RAB-10.

At the RAB-10 office Masum was detained for around 10 and half hours and was brutally tortured. He has stated that: “At the RAB office, they tortured me inhumanly saying: ‘We are taking our anger at Nurul Kabir [New Age editor] out on you”. Masum was released at 10:30PM, only after his colleagues signed an undertaking that he had been handed over to them “in good health” despite the fact he had marks of injury all over the body and his feet were swollen when he was released. Only after the intervention of Home Minister Ms. Sahara Khatun and several high officials of the government into this case was Masum released.

The New Age claims that their staff were earlier asked to sign an undertaking in which it was said that Masum had been involved in trading in drugs for a long time, but his colleagues refused to sign. Masum also said the battalion personnel had videoed set up scenes of them seizing drugs from his room. However, soon after Masum’s detention, different battalion officers came up with different stories as reason for his detention. Some officers claimed Masum was found in possession of Pethedine, some said with Phensidyl (codeine) syrup while others said they found him with prostitutes.

Masum has written reports on extrajudicial killing such as the death in ‘crossfire’ or ‘encounter’ committed by the battalion and on illicit trading in drug substances by police and security officers. He has also written several reports on the torture of newsmen and journalists across the country.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is aware that torture at the hands of the law-enforcement agencies of Bangladesh is nothing new and continues unabated as an endemic problem of the nation. The Home Minister’s intervention to release a professional journalist, who was reportedly forced to appear in a fabricated movie-making programme by the RAB officers, represents the depth of the prevalence of torture and abuse of power by the law-enforcement agencies.

Bangladeshis do not have access to high ranking persons like the Home Minister of the country to ensure their release from the claws of official torturers. The situation requires a comprehensive understanding about the diversified consequences of torture and the urgent need to bring this heinous abuse to an end. The AHRC is of the opinion that in this case torture appears to have been used as a tool to suppress freedom of expression and opinion.

The AHRC strictly condemns the reported lawless brutal actions of the members of the Rapid Action Battalion. The competent authorities should immediately investigate the allegations of torture, detention and the making of a fabricated video. Such an investigation should be undertaken independently of officers of the RAB or the police who lack credibility in Bangladesh. The AHRC strongly urges the Bangladeshi government and the parliamentarians to criminalise torture.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-219-2009
Countries : Bangladesh,
Issues : Freedom of expression, Torture,