Bangladesh: Urgent appeal for journalist and human rights defender being tortured and denied medical treatment

Amnesty International today launched an urgent appeal for journalist and human rights defender Jahangir Alam Akash, who is currently under arrest and has, according to reports, been tortured and denied access to medical treatment. Amnesty International also believe he is a prisoner of conscience.

Jahangir Alam Akash is the local head of two NGOs, the Task Force against Torture and the Bangladesh Institute of Human Rights. He is also the head of the Rajshahi office of the independent TV station CBS News, and has consistently raised concerns about the actions of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a paramilitary police force whose members are drawn from the Bangladeshi army and police. The RAB has reportedly been responsible for hundreds of deaths.

Jahangir Alam Akash was arrested on 24 October on charges of “extortion” on the basis of claims made by a man convicted of rape on the strength of evidence provided by Jahangir Alam Akash. His friends and family have described the charge as false, politically motivated and a pretext to detain him for opposing RAB human rights violations.

Amnesty International is asking for individuals to write to the Chief Adviser of Bangladesh (the equivalent of a prime minister) to express their concerns. Full details on where to write to can be found at http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-bgd/urgent_actions .

Background information:
· On 11 January President Ijuddin Ahmed declared a state of emergency after weeks of violence over the date of elections and electoral reforms between supporters of the former ruling coalition and supporters of parties opposing them. Elections scheduled for 22 January were postponed indefinitely and a new civilian caretaker government, backed by the army, sworn in. Under the state of emergency, political rallies are banned, and freedom of expression severely restricted.

· The caretaker government, like previous governments in Bangladesh has failed to protect people against army and RAB excesses, or to bring any of their personnel to justice for abusing human rights.

· Government sources say the hundreds of deaths attributed to RAB have been caused by crossfire between RAB agents and suspected criminals, but there are persistent reports that the deaths have been deliberate killings by the RAB. Despite this, no RAB agents have ever been brought to justice for any of the killings.

· On 23 October, a group of 10-12 RAB agents in plain clothes came to Jahangir Alam Akash’s house, in the north-western city of Rajshahi, and banged on the door at about 2am. His wife did not let them in until they told her who they were; she asked to see a search warrant, but they refused, saying they wanted to search the house for "illegal arms". Fearing they would kill her husband if there were no witnesses, she called several neighbours to see what was happening. The RAB agents grabbed Jahangir Alam Akash, and began slapping him hard on the face, shouting abuse. They then put him in handcuffs, blindfolded him and took him away.

· He was taken to a nearby army camp where he was reportedly severely beaten. He has now been moved to the Rajshahi Jail hospital: he reportedly has cuts and bruises all over his body, his legs are very swollen and he is unable to walk. The hospital is reportedly not providing the medical attention he needs.

· Jahangir Alam Akash has received death threats many times because of his work, and has been assaulted on several occasions after writing articles critical of local politicians. He was abducted in July 2003, blindfolded and severely beaten, after he published a report on the rivalry between two groups within the main ruling party.

· On 2 May Jahangir Alam Akash produced a report on an attempted extrajudicial execution by RAB agents that had taken place in Rajshahi that day. This was broadcast several times on 3 May. The report included a detailed account by the victim's wife of how RAB agents had come into the family house and shot her husband, in front of her and their daughter, even though he was offering no resistance. That evening Jahangir Alam Akash received a threatening phone call from a man who said he was a major in the local RAB office, and told Jahangir Alam Akash he should not have reported on RAB activities. The man warned him not to meddle in RAB affairs, or produce any more reports on the RAB, or else he would face serious consequences. This threat drew international condemnation, which reportedly delayed any RAB retribution until now.

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