News

March 17, 2020

Bangladeshi police fail to investigate journalist’s disappearance

Monorom Polok (left), son of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol (right) who recently disappeared, speaks to media representatives at the National Press club in Dhaka on March 13, 2020 (photos: STR / AFP - archive).
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure that Shafiqul Kajol, a journalist who has been missing for the past week, is found as quickly as possible and that a criminal defamation complaint against him and two other journalists is dropped at once.

A photojournalist and editor of the Dhaka-based Bangla-language biweekly Pakkhakal, Shafiqul Islam Kajol left his home to go to his office at around 3 p.m. on 10 March. His family has not heard from him since then. That evening, they discovered that his two mobile phones had been turned off.

 

His son, Monorom Polok, told RSF that the family reported him missing in an initial complaint (known as a “general diary” in Bangladesh) that they filed the next day at Chawkbazar police station, the one responsible for the district where they live.

 

After the police reported on 15 March that they had found CCTV footage showing Kajol leaving his office at 7 p.m., his son tried to follow up the initial missing report with a more formal complaint yesterday so that the police would begin an official investigation.

 

But the general inspector at Chawkbazar police station told him that he could not handle the case because the CCTV footage was not from his district. And Newmarket police station, which covers the area where Kajol’s office is located, said they could not handle the case because Kajol does not live in their district. As a result, the investigation is stalled.

 

“It is intolerable that the Dhaka police are treating Shafiqul Islam Kajol’s disappearance in such a careless manner, said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We urge home affairs minister Asaduzzaman Khan to do everything possible to ensure that he is found as quickly as possible or else Khan will be held responsible for anything that happens to him.

 

Bastard added: “Various circumstances indicate that he was abducted in connection with his work as a journalist, especially the absurd defamation complaint brought against him just before he went missing.”

 

Draconian provisions

 

The day before he disappeared, Kajol learned that he and 31 other people, including Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, the editor of the daily newspaper Manabzamin, and one of Chowdhury’s reporters known as Al-Amin, are the subject of a criminal defamation complaint in which they are all facing the possibility of a 14-year jail sentence.

 

Brought by ruling party MP, Saifuzzaman Shikhor under the Digital Security Act, the complaint accuses them of publishing “false, fabricated and defamatory news” about the alleged involvement of well-known figures in a female escort service at a luxury Dhaka hotel.

 

The Daily Star quoted Chowdhury as saying: "We did not mention anyone's name in our report. So there is no scope of defaming anyone."

 

RSF has been condemning the Digital Security Act’s draconian provisions since January 2018.

 

Bangladesh is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.