Press Freedom Update Sept. 10

Shafiqul Islam Kajol was arrested on May 3. Photo courtesy of Atish Saha.

This week’s OPC Press Freedom update focuses on Bangladesh and the ongoing case of Shafiqul Islam Kajol.

By the Numbers: Bangladesh

World Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders)

Bangladesh ranks 150th among 180 countries

RWB ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists.

Global Freedom Report (Freedom House)

Bangladesh scores 39 out of 100; Rating – Partly Free

Freedom House annually rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties.

Ailing Journalist Denied Bail in Bangladesh

A court in Bangladesh rejected a bail petition on Sept. 9 filed on behalf of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol who has been jailed since his arrest under the Digital Security Act on May 3.

Jaydur Rahman, the lawyer representing the renowned 52-year-old reporter, explained that his client should be granted bail as he suffers with several health concerns, including cardiac issues, hypertension and vision problems after being blindfolded for 53 days.

All of this in addition to Kajol’s ongoing concerns about health risks while sitting in an overcrowded prison during the Covid-19 outbreak. News reports put jail capacity in the country at 41,000, though estimates are that 90,000 prisoners are currently incarcerated.

The bail petition was opposed by prosecution lawyers who originally filed a case against Kajol on March 11, accusing the journalist of posting derogatory remarks about the Jubo League.

Last month, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to “express concern over the treatment of renowned journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, including his disappearance, the charges against him under the Digital Securities Act, and current imprisonment.”

HRW wrote on behalf of 15 international organizations, including The Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.

“We are calling on you, as prime minister to immediately address these concerns, and personally intervene to ensure the safety and immediate release of Shafiqul Islam Kajol from prison,” said the HRW letter.

“Considering the repeated overreach by authorities to arbitrarily arrest people, we also urge you to take steps to repeal the Digital Security Act.”

Kajol was reportedly “found” by border guards on May 3, 53 days after his disappearance, though HRW and Kajol’s supporters believe there is evidence to suggest that he was in the custody of Bangladesh’s security forces.

This fall, the CPJ will honor Shahidul Alam, a journalist from Bangladesh and founder of the Pathshala Media Institute, who spent 102 days in prison before winning his release in 2018. Alam was arrested for posting a social media video about the student protests in Dhaka.