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Photojournalist Kajol finally walks out of jail after 237 days

  • Published at 12:28 pm December 25th, 2020
Shafiqul Islam Kajol
FILE PHOTO: Photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol is greeted by his son Monorom Polok after coming out of Dhaka Central Jail on Friday, December 25, 2020 Collected

Kajol went missing on March 10. After a 53-day disappearance, he turned up in police custody on May 3 after the BGB arrested him on trespassing charges

After almost eight long months since being shown arrested, the much-discussed release of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol from Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj at last came about on Friday.

Kajol’s counsel Jyotirmoy Barua confirmed the development through a Facebook post around 11:30am, before adding: “Monorom Polok’s [Kajol’s son] struggle for his father’s release will definitely inspire others.”

ঢাকা কেন্দ্রীয় কারাগার থেকে বের হলেন সাংবাদিক শফিকুল ইসলাম কাজল। আমার সহকর্মীদের অভিনন্দন । সবাই খুব খেটেছেন এই মামলায়।...

Posted by Jyotirmoy Barua on Thursday, 24 December 2020

With the High Court on December 17 granting bail in two cases filed under the Digital Security Act (DSA), there was no legal bar for the photojournalist being released as he had secured bail in all three DSA cases filed against him.

On December 15, the bench expressed grave concern as neither the investigating officer (IO) nor the Cyber Tribunal explained the delay in concluding the probe of the last two DSA cases. The court also sought explanation in three weeks over the delay. 

Previously, the same bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Md Mostafizur Rahman on November 24 granted bail to Kajol in another DSA case filed with Sher-e-Bangla Nagar police station.

The same day, the court questioned the IOs of the DSA cases filed with Hazaribagh and Kamrangirchar police stations if they had taken permission from the Cyber Tribunal to probe the cases despite 75 days into those being lodged.

According to Jyotirmoy Barua, the failure to complete investigation into the cases within 75 days is a violation of the relevant provision of law.

How it all started

On March 9, Awami League lawmaker from the Magura 1 constituency Saifuzzaman Shikhor filed a case against Kajol and 31 others, including Daily Manab Zamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, on charges of publishing a report with false information regarding expelled Jubo Mohila League leader Shamima Noor Papia — who had been arrested back in February on charges of smuggling counterfeit notes and sentenced to jail in October in an arms case — and circulating it on social media.

Also Read - High Court to govt: Why should photojournalist Kajol not get bail?

Kajol, who had previously worked as a photojournalist at national dailies such as Daily Samakal and Daily Bonik Barta, is the editor of the fortnightly magazine Pokkhokal.

Two more cases were also filed against him under the same act with Hazaribagh and Kamrangirchar police stations in Dhaka on March 10 and 11, respectively.

On March 10, Kajol went missing after leaving his office. After a 53-day disappearance, he turned up in police custody on May 3 after the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) arrested him on charges of trespassing at Benapole border in Jessore.

Shown formally arrested in the cases, Kajol had been in jail since then.

The reactions

In response to Kajol's release from prison, Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, said: "It’s a relief to know that Kajol has been freed, after two months of disappearance and seven months in detention for his posts on Facebook.

“We hope that the authorities will drop the cases against Kajol and release all those who have been detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression in line with Bangladesh's commitments under the international human rights law.”

He added: “The Digital Security Act in its current form does not define the necessity and proportionality of the penalties, as articulated in the framework of the international human rights law with regards to the restriction on freedom of expression.

“As a result, state agencies can still abuse the law, with no safeguards in place for people to seek redress for such violations. The authorities must immediately repeal the Digital Security Act unless it can be amended in compliance with the international human rights law, and in consultation with members of the media and civil society."

Also Read - OP-ED: Of police excesses and the curious case of the DSA

Acclaimed photojournalist Shahidul Alam posted on his Facebook timeline: “Kajol finally released. Disappeared. Theatrically ‘found’ at the border. Released after several bail attempts. Let’s hope he will not be silenced and we shall now get to know what really happened.”

In another post later in the day, Shahidul wrote: “Kajol’s son Monorom Polok played an exemplary role in the relentless campaign for the release of his father.” 

Calls seeking the release

On August 11, a joint statement by 17 organizations including the Human Rights Watch requested the prime minister to help release Kajol, saying over 500 people were victims of enforced disappearances in Bangladesh over the last decade. 

Then on October 1, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-governmental organization based in New York City, urged the prime minister to facilitate Kajol’s release. 

These two are among a series of requests made locally and internationally seeking the release of Kajol.