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Found in Benapole, missing journalist Kajol accused of illegal intrusion

  • Published at 08:15 pm May 3rd, 2020

Police take him to court handcuffed behind back

Journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, who went missing about two months ago after being named in a digital security case, has been found at the Benapole border in Jessore.

Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) said he was arrested early on Sunday on charges of trespassing and was turned over to the local police.

He was produced in court, which sent him to jail after accepting police’s plea for detention on ‘reasonable suspicion.’

“A BGB patrol detained him from the Sadipur border while he was crossing over from India,” said Havildar Ashek Ali, chief of the local Roghunathpur BGB camp.

The BGB brought charges of illegal intrusion against Kajol before handing him over to the police, said OC Mamun Khan of the Benapole Port Police Station.

An official from the Benapole police informed Kajol’s family by phone around 2:48am on Sunday, said his son Monorom Polok.

“A man identifying himself as Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI) Obaidul, duty officer of Benapole port police, called us to say that my father was in their custody,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

Polok said he was asked to come to the police station and that the officer let him speak to his father.

"‘I am alive!’ is what he said before expressing his gratitude to the Almighty,” he said.

Taken to court handcuffed behind back

Kajol was transported from the bordering town of Benapole to Jessore city, where police produced him in a court.

He was handcuffed behind the back when police brought him at the premises of the judicial magistrate’s court.

“The disappearance of Kajol has been reported in national and international media. He is not a person who would escape. He should not have been treated like this,” lawyer Mahmud Hasan Bulu told the media.

However, police said handcuffing behind back has been introduced recently and they do not find anything wrong with it.

Section 330 (a) of Police Regulations, Bengal says, “Prisoners arrested by the police for transmission to a magistrate or to the scene of an enquiry, and also under-trial prisoners, shall not be subjected to more restrain than is necessary to prevent their escape. The use of handcuffs or ropes is often an unnecessary indignity.”

Kajol was produced in the court of Judicial Magistrate Manjurul Islam, who granted bail on trespassing charges but accepted police’s plea to detain him under Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

The legal provision provides for arrest without warrant and interrogation in custody on reasonable suspicion.

Police argued Kajol was named in ICT and digital security cases filed with the Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Kamrangirchar, and Hazaribagh police stations in Dhaka.

The journalist was then taken to the Jessore Central Jail, where he has been kept in a separate ward, Senior Jail Superintendent Subrata Kumar Bala told the Dhaka Tribune.

Asked whether he has quarantined, the jail official said, “All of the new inmates are kept in separate wards now.”

Disappearance of Kajol

Kajol, who had previously worked as a photojournalist at national dailies like Dainik Samakal and Banik Barta, is the editor of the fortnightly magazine, Pokkhokal.

He disappeared a day after being sued by a ruling party lawmaker in a Digital Security Act case over a report on the alleged escort services operated by ruling party activist Shamima Noor Papia.

In the case filed by Magura-1 MP Saifuzzaman Shikhor on March 9, Kajol and 30 others, including Manabzamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, have been accused of publishing a report with false information and circulating it on social media.

Human rights experts describe the Digital Security Act as draconian and have been calling for it to be abolished since it was enacted in 2018. They say it can be used to systematically muzzle journalists and rights activists.

His family filed a general diary (GD) with the Chawkbazar police station in Dhaka on March 11 as they were unable to reach him after he left his Bakshibazar home on March 10.

Seven days after Kajol’s disappearance, his family started a case of abduction with Chawkbazar police on March 18.

The family said they had gone to file a case on March 16, but police refused to lodge it.

His son Polok then told the media that the OC did not lodge the case as they were waiting for video footage.

According to Polok, Chawkbazar police initially advised them to file their case with  New Market Police Station as the incident took place in Hatirpool. However, they were turned away by the New Market police as well. Finally, a day later, Chawkbazar police lodged the abduction case.

Kajol’s wife Julia Ferdousi told Dhaka Tribune on Sunday that the police had “done nothing much’ after her husband went missing.

“They did not even contact us after we filed the GD. However, a day after the case was filed, investigating officer Sub-Inspector Lokman Hossain, came to our home and spoke with my son,” she said.

Ferdousi said that two days after Kajol went missing, two men who claimed that they were helping Sub-Inspector Lokman, came to her home and went through her husband’s laptop.

“One of them told us that several things from his Facebook account have been deleted,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

On March 22, Amnesty International released a security camera video, which showed Kajol being followed before his disappearance.

In the video released on Twitter, some unidentified men were also seen tampering with his motorcycle outside his office on March 10.

Police reportedly downplayed the evidence.

"We have sent the footage to the police. But the investigating officer later told me that they hadn't found anything suspicious in it," Kajol's son Polok told the media last month.

Several days later, police said Kajol’s phone was traced on April 9 at Jessore’s Benapole, near the border with India.

“It was briefly switched on. So it was not possible to conduct raids in Benapole,” Chawkbazar Police OC Moudut Hawlader told the Dhaka Tribune on April 20.

However, the same day a senior police officer told Dhaka Tribune that Kajol’s family had received a call demanding ransom for his release.

“Some two weeks ago, an unidentified man called the family and said they had abducted Kajol before demanding ransom,” said Deputy Commissioner Muntasirul Islam of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police’s (DMP) Lalbagh Division, before adding that the number used to make the call was later found switched off.

Soon after Kajol’s disappearance, international rights organisations voiced concerns and urged the Bangladesh government to determine his whereabouts.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a statement on March 13, said the incident “was especially concerning after he was named in a dubious defamation complaint.”

In a statement the same day, Amnesty International said Kajol’s family fears that he could be a victim of enforced disappearance.

 “Bangladesh authorities must launch an urgent investigation to determine the fate and whereabouts of Shafiqul Islam Kajol, release him if he is in their custody, and drop the case against him and 31 others,” read the statement.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the case was deeply concerning “particularly given the Bangladesh authorities’ record of abducting people and holding them in secret detention where their safety and lives are at risk.”

In the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released last month by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Bangladesh came in at 151 out of 180 countries — one point below last year's ranking.

RSF said it noted a "disturbing increase in press freedom violations, including violence by political activists against reporters in the field, the arbitrary blocking of news websites, and arbitrary arrests of journalists."