Dhaka: A prominent Bangladeshi magazine editor was released from jail Tuesday nearly five months after his arrest on charges of plotting to kill the premier’s son, a case that sparked fears of a press crackdown.
Shafik Rehman, 81, who is also a British citizen and a former speechwriter for the main opposition leader and the premier’s arch rival, was released days after the Supreme Court granted him bail. “He is very weak. He has been suffering from heart and other ailments,” his wife, Taleya Rehman, said after his release from Kashimpur prison outside Dhaka. “We are taking him to Birdem hospital in Dhaka where he will be treated,” she told AFP.
Police arrested Rehman from his home in April on conspiracy charges of plotting to murder Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s son Sajeeb Wazed Joy, who lives in the United States. Police said they had found evidence linking the editor to the plot, claims his family and supporters reject. Rehman was the third pro-opposition editor to have been arrested by authorities including on charges of sedition, triggering repeated calls from rights groups for their release.
Journalists have also been detained under provisions of a controversial defamation law which critics say gives the government free reign to quash dissent. Concerns over freedom of speech are also rising in Muslim-majority Bangladesh following a spate of gruesome killings of secular bloggers and liberal activists by Islamic extremists. Rehman was a long-time editor of Jai Jai Din, a mass-circulation Bengali daily. He now edits a popular Bengali monthly magazine called Mouchake Dhil.
More recently, he became the convenor of the international affairs committee of opposition leader Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and headed a pro-opposition think-tank named G-9. The government launched a major crackdown last year against activists from the BNP and its Islamist allies following a transport blockade that left scores dead in a failed bid to force Hasina to resign.
The Supreme Court last Thursday granted Rehman bail for three months or until police submitted a charge sheet against him, his lawyer, M Asaduzzaman, said. “We’re hoping the bail will be extended,” Asaduzzaman told AFP, adding that Rehman’s passport had been seized.
Authorities last week arrested an award-winning editor of a specialist education website for allegedly defaming an influential ex-schools chief.