Boris Johnson asked to help British journalist in Bangladesh jail

July 16, 2016

Image of Shafik Rehman in a wheelchair

An elderly British journalist will appear in court in Dhaka tomorrow (Sunday 17th) for a bail hearing after spending over three months in prison.

Human rights charity Reprieve has written to Britain’s new foreign secretary expressing concerns that 81 year old Shafik Rehman could face the death penalty if charged.

Boris Johnson has already indicated that he will stand up for Britons abroad. On taking office, he said that, “It’s very important that people should realise that when you leave Heathrow, when you leave Dover, a British citizen is basically the responsibility of the foreign office.”

Rehman – who edits a popular Bangladeshi magazine and has worked for the BBC – was arrested in April this year by plain clothes police officers who entered his home without a warrant, posing as a camera crew. He spent weeks in solitary confinement without a bed before he was rushed to hospital in an emergency and remains in very poor health.

His arrest appears to have been politically-motivated. He has not yet been charged with any crime. Though no evidence against him has been produced, officials have spoken publicly of ‘sedition’ and there are serious reasons to fear that if Rehman is charged those charges might carry the death penalty.

A former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh and Pakistan, William B. Milam, has said that Bangladesh’s government “has silenced critics by resorting to enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings”, and that journalists who, like Rehman, “dare cover any of this are being charged with sedition and treason.”

Maya Foa, director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, said:

“Shafik’s arrest and detention – beginning from the police showing up at his house and posing as a camera crew to gain admittance – has involved one unlawful and unfair act after another.

“The British Government, and the new Foreign Secretary, must immediately intervene to make it clear to the Bangladesh authorities that the ongoing detention of an 81 year old British journalist in these circumstances is completely unacceptable.

“Shafik must be released now before his health deteriorates any further.”

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 US, based in New York City, can be contacted on Katherine [dot] oshea [at] reprieve.org / +1 917 855 8064.