Bangladesh: Release Tasneem Khalil
(London, May 11, 2007) – Bangladesh’s military-backed care-taker government should immediately release Tasneem Khalil, an investigative journalist and part-time Human Rights Watch consultant, who was detained by security forces late last night, Human Rights Watch said today.
Khalil, 26, is a journalist for the Dhaka-based Daily Star newspaper who conducts research for Human Rights Watch. According to his wife, four men in plainclothes who identified themselves as from the “joint task force”came to the door after midnight on May 11 in Dhaka, demanding to take Khalil away. They said they were placing Khalil “under arrest” and taking him to the Sangsad Bhavan army camp, outside the parliament building in Dhaka.
“We are extremely concerned about Tasneem Khalil’s safety,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “He has been a prominent voice in Bangladesh for human rights and the rule of law, and has been threatened because of that.”
The men did not offer a warrant or any charges, Khalil’s wife said. Using threatening language, they searched the house and confiscated Khalil’s passport, two computers, documents, and two mobile phones.
“It is an emergency; we can arrest anyone,” one of the men said. Another asked if Khalil suffered from any particular physical ailments. They drove Khalil off in a Pajero jeep.
Khalil is a noted investigative journalist who has published several controversial exposes of official corruption and abuse, particularly by security forces. He assisted Human Rights Watch in research for a 2006 report about torture and extrajudicial killings by Bangladesh security forces.
According to Bangladeshi human rights groups, the army has detained tens of thousands of people since a state of emergency was declared on January 11, 2007. A number of those detained are picked up in the middle of the night, as Khalil was, and then tortured.
In Bangladesh, security forces have long been implicated in torture and extrajudicial killings. The killings have been attributed to members of the army, the police, and the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force. The Human Rights Watch report Khalil worked on, “Judge, Jury, and Executioner: Torture and Extrajudicial Killings by Bangladesh’s Elite Security Force,” focused on abuses by the RAB.
Killings in custody remain a persistent problem in Bangladesh. To date, no military personnel are known to have been held criminally responsible for any of the deaths.
Khalil was called in for questioning by military intelligence last week, apparently as part of the military’s campaign to intimidate independent journalists ahead of May 10, 2007, when the army’s three-month legal mandate for ruling under a state of emergency came to an end.
“The Bangladeshi military should be on notice that its actions are being closely watched by the outside world,” Adams said. “Any harm to Tasneem Khalil will seriously undermine the army’s claims to legitimacy and upholding the rule of law.”