Bangladesh must release elderly British journalist, say family

September 1, 2016

The family of an 81 year old British journalist facing a potential death sentence in Bangladesh have raised concerns that he has yet to be released, after he was bailed yesterday following nearly five months in prison without charge.

At a hearing yesterday, the Supreme Court in Dhaka ordered the release on bail of Shafik Rehman, a British grandfather who is well known in Bangladesh as a magazine editor and former BBC journalist. Mr Rehman – who remains under investigation, and at risk of the death penalty – was arrested in April without a warrant by plainclothes police who posed as a TV crew. Despite fears that Mr Rehman could be charged with offences which could carry the death penalty, he has never been charged, and police from the Detective Branch have repeatedly failed to submit their report on the case.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Rehman’s son Shumit, who lives in London, said that his father remained in custody despite having been bailed, and that their family feared his detention could continue into the next week.

Mr Rehman has been held in poor conditions since his arrest, and has been hospitalised amid worsening fears for his health. His son Shumit told the BBC that his formerly “sprightly” father was now confined to a wheelchair following an ordeal that he said included a month of solitary confinement and ten days of interrogation. Mr Rehman’s detention had taken a severe toll on Shumit’s elderly mother, as well as Shafik, he added.

Mr Rehman has previously worked with Bangladesh’s main opposition party, the BNP, and his arrest is part of a wider crackdown on political and press freedoms in the country. He is the third pro-opposition journalist to have been detained since 2013. Last month, several press freedom groups including Reporters Without Borders wrote to the Bangladeshi government calling for Shafik’s release.

Speaking to the BBC, his son Shumit said today that he was certain his father had been held because of his criticism of the government.

Commenting, Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said:

“Shafik Rehman has been through a terrible ordeal – arrested, imprisoned and facing a death sentence at 81 years old – merely because of his journalism and his criticism of the government of Bangladesh. The authorities’ treatment of this British grandfather has been nothing short of shameful. His release on bail is one step, but Shafik’s ordeal has already gone on too long. The Bangladeshi authorities must drop their baseless ‘investigation’ of him once and for all.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

1. Reprieve is an international human rights organization. Reprieve’s London office can be contacted on: communications [at] reprieve.org.uk / +44 (0) 207 553 8140. Reprieve U.S., based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org.

2. Shumit Rehman’s BBC interview can be heard here, at 50.30 mins in.