He, however, is not sure which particular report angered the abductors who also brutally tortured him
The Chittagong-based journalist Golam Sarwar, who was found after missing for nearly four days, says he was targeted for his work.
The staff reporter at the weekly Ajker Surjodoy, who also is the publisher and executive editor of the online news outlet ctnewsbd.com, was found lying next to a canal near the Kumira Bazar in the southeastern district’s Sitakunda Upazila on Sunday evening.
He went missing after he left his Battery Lane residence in the port city late on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old was found unconscious and initially taken to a shop at Kumira Bazar by the locals. He was rescued by the police later and taken to Chittagong Medical College Hospital where he is now being treated.
A video emerged on social media, which appears to have been shot soon after he was found, showing a terrified Sarwar repeatedly saying, "Please let me go. I won't write news anymore! I will quit journalism" after regaining consciousness.
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune on Monday, Sarwar said that he had left his residence in the city late on Wednesday to catch a bus for his home in Chandnaish upazila.
“I hailed a ride-sharing motorcycle to go to the bus terminal. At one point, when we were at a red light, someone smeared something on my face from the back and I passed out,” he said.
Sarwar said during his nearly four days in confinement he was tortured.
“They were beating and asking me whether I would ever write reports again. I begged them not to beat me and said I wouldn’t write news anymore,” he said, before adding that he had heard the sound of trains going by during his captivity.
He, however, said he was not sure which news report his abductors were referring to.
Sarwar was found unconscious with bruises all over his body on Sunday. Witnesses said some people dropped him off from an ambulance.
Sarwar said that he saw five people where he was being held and all of them took turns to torture him.
According to him, two of them were speaking in the local dialect of Chittagong while the others used a regular Bangla accent.
“They frequently asked me whether I would ever report news again,” Sarwar said before adding that they never referred to any specific report.
Sarwar said he heard the abductors saying they had picked him up “to teach him a lesson, not to kill him” during their phone conversations.
What Sarwar reported recently
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune at Chittagong Medical College Hospital (CMCH) on Monday, Sarwar said that it was clear that he had been abducted over news reports, but said he was not sure which specific report it was.
The online news outlet, where Sarwar is the publisher and executive editor, ran a report on October 24 over the alleged involvement of Land Minister Saifuzzaman Chowdhury’s brother Anisuzzaman in land grabbing.
The report by ctnewsbd.com claimed that the minister’s brother tried to grab the land of a housing project in the city’s Sarson Road area, which is in the same neighbourhood where Sarwar lives.
On Wednesday, when Sarwar went missing, the online newspaper ran a report on illegal gambling operations in upscale neighbourhoods of the port city.
Without naming anyone, it claimed that the son of a businessman and politician was behind at least one casino-style gambling facility operated in the Khulshi area.
Besides, his online newspaper also ran a report on mismanagement and irregularities at a private medical facility, Epic Healthcare Ltd, in the port city.
Sarwar’s colleagues also said that it seemed that he had been targeted for his work.
“It is now clear. But we are not sure which report led to this incident. Sarwar recently reported three stories, which may have hurt a powerful lobby,” said ctnewsbd.com Managing Editor Jubayer Siddiqui.
He said that Sarwar would hold a press conference soon and that he would file a case after his recovery.
Farid Mahmud, editor of ctnewsbd.com, told Dhaka Tribune that only Sarwar could confirm whether he had been abducted for his reports.
In trauma, but out of danger
Doctors said they found bruises all over Sarwar’s body, which they say was caused by blunt weapons.
“We suspect he was drugged as well. A medical team comprising the heads of the Medicine, Surgery, Orthopedics and Psychiatry departments has been formed for his treatment,” CMCH Director Brig Gen SM Humayun Kabir told Dhaka Tribune.
Sarwar was now out of danger and would be discharged within a day or two, he said, adding, “Psychiatrists will now see him as he is in trauma.”
‘Not an isolated incident’
Describing the abduction of Sarwar as a part of an ongoing process to gag the media, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) called for a proper investigation into the incident.
The abduction and torture of the journalist was not an isolated incident, a statement by the rights watchdog quoted its Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman as saying.
“It is just part of a cruel series of threats, intimidation of journalists and the media,” TIB quoted him as saying.
According to Iftekharuzzaman, the government's repeated statements about a free press were nothing but expressions of “political formalities”.