Human rights group accuses Bangladesh of torture
Randeep Ramesh, south Asia correspondent guardian.co.uk,
Thursday February 14 2008
Human Rights Watch today accused Bangladesh of beating and torturing a reporter employed by the New York-based group, forcing him and his family to flee the country.
Tasneem Khalil, a 27-year-old reporter who worked as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, was picked up last May by the intelligence services after a series of reports accusing the Bangladeshi military of carrying out extrajudicial executions and persecuting minority groups in the country.
He says he was taken at gunpoint from his family home at night, blindfolded, bound and bundled into a waiting car before being beaten with batons in a cell designed for "torture".
After "confessing" during 22 hours of imprisonment, and after pressure from western diplomats, Khalil was released and went into hiding. He and his family were granted asylum in Sweden last June.
Recounting his experiences, Khalil said he had been taken to a small room that had no windows and was soundproofed. In the room was a table on which rested plastic batons, which delivered electric shocks, and a metal bed frame fitted with straps.
"I was beaten, tortured and made to record a video confessing that I had, in the guise of working for CNN and Human Rights Watch, actually passed on national security information to them," Khalil told the Guardian.
The intelligence officers had been incensed with Khalil's work with Human Rights Watch, where he had worked as a consultant since 2006. Khalil said.
"I worked on a report about extrajudicial killings. That suddenly infuriated them so much that all of them started hitting the table with hands and sticks and started shouting at me. Someone came around the table and started punching me on my head again ... I was beaten from all possible directions with hands and batons and kicks. I pleaded with them to give me one last chance. I said I would not do those things again."
Bangladesh has been effectively under the rule of army generals since the military intervened a year ago after protracted political violence. The army installed a caretaker government but has yet to lift the state of emergency and declare a date for parliamentary elections promised by the end of 2008.
Khalill said: "The military has polluted the political system in Bangladesh, and they have cleverly put the blame on the politicians. But they are the problem, not the solution."
Human Rights Watch, which still employs Khalil, accused the international community of ignoring Bangladesh's clandestine detention and torture system, which it said was "well known to Dhaka's donors and the diplomatic community".
"Rampant illegal detention and torture are clear evidence of Bangladesh's security forces running amok", said Brad Adams, the organisation's Asia director.
Last month, Human Rights Watch said: "Bangladesh's interim government used the pretext of emergency rule to continue a historic pattern of impunity, with widespread allegations of security forces arresting, detaining, even killing civilians."
Tens of thousands of people were arrested in the weeks that followed the declaration of a state of emergency, and security forces have been accused of flouting standard arrest and detention procedures.
Khalil said there was now a culture of "self-censorship" in the country, and people were afraid of the consequences of speaking out.
"I am taking a calculated risk in speaking out because I still have family in Bangladesh," he said. "But I feel it is important that people know what is really going on in my country."