Bangladesh releases elderly British journalist on bail

August 31, 2016

An 81 year old British journalist who is facing a potential death sentence in Bangladesh has been bailed this morning after spending over four months in detention without charge.

At a hearing at the Supreme Court in Dhaka this morning, the court 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.

Mr Rehman has been held in poor conditions since his arrest, and has been hospitalised amid worsening fears for his health. Though Bangladeshi officials had publicly suggested Shafik would face charges that could carry the death penalty, he has not been charged, and police from the Detective Branch have repeatedly failed to submit their report on the case. This morning the Supreme Court is understood to have considered information presented by the Attorney-General regarding the police investigation before ordering Mr Rehman’s immediate release.

Mr Rehman has also worked as a speechwriter for 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 and the International Federation of Journalists wrote to the Bangladeshi government calling for Mr Rehman’s release.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organization Reprieve, which is assisting Mr Rehman, said:

“This is a small and long-overdue step in the right direction. Shafik, who is increasingly frail, has already been through a shameful four-month ordeal of detention without charge. His release on bail today suggests that the long-delayed police ‘evidence’ against him isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The Bangladeshi authorities must now drop their flawed investigation against this elderly journalist, and end the crackdown on press freedoms that led to his arrest in the first place.”

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.