International rights bodies have urged Bangladesh to take immediate steps to locate journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, who has been missing since Tuesday as they also called on the authorities concerned to drop the case filed by a ruling party lawmaker accusing 32 people, including Kajol and a newspaper editor, under the Digital Security Act.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) separately made the calls on Friday.
“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,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
“The Bangladesh government should take immediate steps to locate Kajol and bring him to safety,” he added.
The day before he disappeared, Kajol was among those accused in a criminal case against a prominent news editor, Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, and 30 others under the draconian Digital Security Act.
The international community and Bangladesh civil society have repeatedly called on the government to repeal the vague and overly broad segments of the Digital Security Act, which facilitates abuse.
On March 2, Chowdhury’s newspaper, the Manabzamin, published an article describing various lawmakers who, according to an unverified list, visited a sex trafficking ring allegedly operated out of a hotel in Dhaka by a member of the ruling Awami League party.
ShifuzzamanShikhor, a lawmaker and former aide to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, later filed the case against Chowdhury, Kajol, and others. While the newspaper did not publish any names, some people – including some of those accused by Shikhor – circulated this unverified list on Facebook, which included Shikhor’s name.
Kajol’s family suspects he was abducted and has called on the authorities to help ensure his safe return. At a news conference on March 13, Kajol’s son said that his father left their home in Dhaka on his motorbike at about 3 p.m. on March 10 with two phones. Now but both phones had been switched off and his motorbike has not been recovered.
“We don’t think my father went missing on his own,” Kajol’s son told Agence France-Presse. “We suspect he may have been abducted.”
He said that the family had searched hospital emergency wards and filed a missing person complaint at the Chawkbazar police station on March 11. He also said that the family met with the Detective Branch of the police to ask if Kajol had been arrested because of the case filed against him, but officers there said that none of the 31 people named had been held.
Bangladesh authorities have a history of arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances. While some people are later released or formally taken into custody, officials have in some cases said they were killed in alleged gunfights with the security forces or in crossfires.
The Bangladeshi human rights organization Odhikar reported that security forces have forcibly disappeared over 550 people over the last decade of the Awami League’s rule. Many of these victims were targeted as members of the political opposition.
In recent years, however, there have been cases in which security forces have disappeared individuals in what appear to be the result of personal retribution by members of the ruling elite.
“Bangladeshis should not live in fear of abduction if they share something on Facebook,” Adams said. “The government needs to seriously investigate the many cases in which family members allege that the victim was picked up by security forces but whose whereabouts remain unknown.” (Source: HRW)