Anyone who has seen the video of Chattogram reporter Golam Sarwar – taken shortly after he was found unconscious on the banks of a canal after a three-day disappearance – will likely not forget the helplessness and fear that surrounds him. pass through his bruised being, as he continued to utter the words, “Please, brother, I will write no more.” Stripped of his clothes, his naked body showing obvious signs of torture, a traumatized Sarwar believed he was still being held hostage by his captors as he begged their mercy. He was arrested on his way home from work, four days after publishing an article alleging that a minister’s family had been implicated in the land grab. Since his “reappearance”, Sarwar has recounted the horror of those “missing” three days of his life, when he was held up near a railroad tracks and badly beaten with every passing train. Sometimes the beatings were so severe that he thought it might be the end. He heard one of his captors ask on the phone, “Shall I finish him?” The voice on the other side retorted, “No, keep him alive, so we can teach the other reporters a lesson.”
Sarwar might have thought the worst was over, but according to the story, that was just the beginning. There were multiple threats to his life during the year, and two bogus cases were filed against him, shortly after his recovery, by “influential quarters” for his reports, one of which was the accused of causing damage worth 100 crore Tk. . In contrast, the case he filed with the police following his kidnapping has, as one might expect, made no progress. I say predictably because the police made no effort to retrieve him when he went missing, even though his family were contacted at least five times by the kidnapper (s), using his own phone portable. We know the police have the surveillance capacity to track phones (based on how effectively they track dissidents and protesters), so what possible explanation could there have been for their apparent inability to do so in his case ?
A Sarwar “conversation” with five to six policemen, including the manager, deputy sub-inspector and sub-inspector of the Chattogram Kotwali police station might offer a clue. In a recent interview with The Daily Star, Sarwar recounted how he was interrogated for four and a half hours by the police, who essentially tried to dissuade him from pursuing the case. “Why are you getting into trouble fighting this case?” “” How will you fight the mighty [quarters]? “” Your background is clean, why inflict this on yourself? “They repeated to him over and over. Are we to deduce from this” brotherly concern “that they knew who was behind his kidnapping – and that it was theirs. way of alluding to ensuring justice in the case was beyond their pay level?
Their dedication to the investigation can be measured by the fact that they filed for pre-trial detention for the two suspects arrested a week after they had already been released on bail. The result was that police submitted their final report in May, in which they said they found no evidence of kidnapping. Following an appeal of no confidence in the report, a Chattogram court dismissed the findings and asked the Chattogram Police Bureau of Investigation to reconsider the case. But given the reach of the powerful and invested neighborhood that Sarwar angered, is there any hope that justice will be served? Not if the Kotwali police are to be believed – or any of the other Chattogram “sympathizers” who have told Sarwar to step back and save himself and his family before it is too late.
The pursuit of justice sounds noble as a rallying cry, but we all know that at the end of the day our law enforcement agencies are more adept at making criminals of journalists than at finding the criminals who harass them, kidnap or murder them. We have witnessed (reluctant) how the state spared no effort to portray photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol as a leading criminal, dragging him to court with his hands cuffed behind his back and denying him release. on bail 13 times in seven consecutive months in three cases filed against him under the Digital Security Act (DSA). Yet a year and a half has passed since he was found at the Benapole border after his enforced disappearance for 53 days, and there has not even been a claim of a follow-up by the forces of the order on why and how Kajol disappeared, and what that had to do with the DSA case filed just a day before his disappearance by a ruling party lawmaker and party activist. Despite repeated calls for an investigation, both national and international, the inaction of the police speaks volumes.
Meanwhile, without even a hint of repentance, the government has dismissed the untimely death of writer and entrepreneur Mushtaq Ahmed – who has been arrested under the DSA and denied bail six times – in custody as a “natural occurrence.” “. But what’s natural to be picked up by Rab for social media posts criticizing the government’s handling of Covid-19 (not much different from those shared by many of us) and rotting in jail for nine months, with no chance of seeing his family? What is natural for a 53-year-old man with no history of serious illness to face the “death penalty” for exercising his constitutional right to free speech, without even a trial?
Mushtaq’s comrade, cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, who was also arrested in the same DSA case, insists that they were both tortured in police custody. Subsequent investigations carried out by the prison authorities, the Gazipur district authorities and the Ministry of Interior did not reveal any negligence on the part of the authorities. But even if we pay no attention to Kishore’s torture allegation, the state cannot shirk responsibility for the injustice and arbitrariness of Mushtaq’s arrest, denial of bail. and death in custody. If nothing else, Mushtaq may have simply died from the grief of his beloved country turning into an autocratic state and in so doing, making him a criminal.
A recent analysis of 668 DSA files filed over three years by the Center of Governance Studies think tank shows that 142 journalists were prosecuted during this period, the second most targeted profession after politicians. Interestingly, however, the percentage of journalists arrested (13%) was higher than that of politicians (11.3%). In many cases, investigation reports are not filed within the allotted time, and since most of the most used sections of the DSA are not subject to bail, defendants are effectively punished in detention even before trial. Mushtaq by paying the ultimate price. Even a quick glance at the reports of the arrested journalists confirms that a majority of them were held up for shedding light on corruption, irregularities or state sanctioned violations.
Much has been said by those who care about the terrifying repercussions of the digital security law – at least, as much as can be said without being themselves supported and judged under it. Everything we feared would happen with the enactment of the DSA – and worse yet – has already come true. At this point I feel like I’m stuck in a loop, kind of like in a Kafka novel, writing a variation of the same editorial or editorial over and over again, demanding justice, demanding that the authorities be held to account. officials, wishing the DSA to repeal, and so on. Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse, with impunity for crimes against journalists – and the general public – eating away at what remains of this elusive thing called the rule of law in this country.
Every now and then I put my laptop away and bemoan the end of my writing career. What’s even the point of writing if you can’t write what you want? But then I remember, threatening or tiring us into submitting, isn’t that what they really want?
Sushmita S Preetha is the impact editor, The Daily Star.