The targeting of investigative journalists like Shafiqul Islam Kajol raises serious questions about Bangladesh's commitment to a free and independent media, the experts say
The United Nations (UN) experts have raised their concern over the ongoing persecution of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol in Bangladesh and his previous suspected enforced disappearance.
They warned that Kajol’s detention and the ongoing criminal cases against him compound fears that Bangladesh is using the Digital Security Act to stifle free speech, according to a statement issued by the UN Human Rights office in Geneva on Tuesday.
"The targeting of investigative journalists like Shafiqul Islam Kajol raises serious questions about Bangladesh's commitment to a free and independent media.
“Such persecution has devastating consequences for the journalists and their families – and also for society as a whole. Journalism is an essential function for society, democracy, and accountability," the experts said.
Before his disappearance on 10 March 2020, Kajol had worked on a sex-trafficking story which reported links to politicians in Bangladesh.
Social media posts on the story sparked police investigations against Kajol for breaching the Digital Security Act after complaints were filed by two senior politicians of the governing Awami League party.
The experts have already raised concerns with the Government over serious flaws in the investigations of the disappearance by the authorities, and noted that the authorities in this period continued investigations against Kajol under the Digital Security Act for his journalistic activities, the statement reads.
When found on 3 May at the border with India, blindfolded and tied, Kajol was arrested and charged for illegally entering Bangladesh.
Despite providing bail and given an order for his release, he was placed in pre-trial detention for fifteen days by a Court order under the ongoing investigations vide Digital Security Act.
At the expiration of this deadline however, he has not yet been released, the statement says.
"We express concern as to whether the legality of his detention has been subject to adequate judicial review, and that his detention continues seemingly without a legal basis.
If confirmed, this would constitute a violation of human rights law. This is particularly concerning with heightened risk of Covid-19 infection that those detained are exposed to", the experts noted.
They urged the authorities to thoroughly investigate the acts of the authorities with respect to Kajol and review its practice and the Digital Security Act in light of Bangladesh's obligations under international human rights law.
"We also urge Bangladesh to promptly and thoroughly investigate every case of alleged enforced disappearance in the country," added the experts noting that the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances currently has more than 60 open cases from Bangladesh in its database.
The experts, who made the statement, include, among others, David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Dainius Pūras, special rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; and Luciano A Hazan, Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances chair.