British journalist, 81, denied bail in Bangladesh

By agency reporter
June 15, 2016

An elderly British-Bangladeshi journalist who faces a potential death sentence in Bangladesh has been denied bail, sparking fears for his wellbeing in detention.

Shafik Rehman, an 81-year-old British citizen who has family in the UK, was arrested in April this year, apparently in relation to his activities as a journalist and opposition activist. At a bail hearing on 7 June 2016, a judge is understood to have denied bail to Mr Rehman.

Mr Rehman is a prominent journalist and a former speechwriter for the opposition Bangladesh National Party, and his arrest appears to be politically-motivated. He has been held without charge since his arrest, but the Bangladeshi authorities have suggested they plan to charge him in relation to an alleged plot to kidnap the son of the Bangladeshi Prime Minister.

The government has provided no evidence to support the existence of a kidnap plot, or Mr Rehman’s involvement in it, and in 2015, a judge in the US – who had reviewed the plot allegations as part of a separate US trial – dismissed the allegations on grounds of insufficient evidence.

Shafik Rehman has been held in poor conditions since his arrest, and was rushed to hospital last month after having spent several weeks in solitary confinement without a bed. He remains in a hospital wing of Dhaka Central Jail, and his family are concerned for his health.

Rehman’s arrest comes amid criticism of the Bangladeshi government following a series of recent attacks and arrests involving journalists, bloggers and opposition activists. In its 2015 human rights report on Bangladesh, the UK Foreign Office called for “an effective justice system, and a vibrant civil society and free media, able to challenge and hold authority to account” in Bangladesh.

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at human rights organisation Reprieve – which is assisting Shafik Rehman’s family – said: “It is deeply worrying that the Bangladeshi authorities have seen fit to deny bail to an elderly journalist, in what is clearly part of a wider crackdown on the government’s critics.

“Months on from Shafik Rehman’s arrest, the authorities have failed to make any case against him – meanwhile, his family in Britain are desperately worried that he could face the death penalty, or that his health will fail in detention.

“The UK and other countries with close ties to Bangladesh must now urge Mr Rehman’s release, before it’s too late.”

* Reprieve


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