Dhaka Tribune journalist latest victim of custodial torture, abuse of power

The mobile court said they had recovered drugs and alcohol from the journalist’s residence, which his family termed absurd

A mobile court in the dead of night jailed Dhaka Tribune journalist Ariful Islam for a year, after law enforcement members led by magistrates picked him up from his home in Kurigram.

Ariful, Kurigram district correspondent for Dhaka Tribune and online news portal Bangla Tribune, was sent to jail early Saturday, soon after the mobile court set up at the office of the Kurigram deputy commissioner (DC), ended the trial proceedings.

The mobile court said they had recovered drugs and alcohol from the journalist’s residence, which his family termed absurd.

Ariful’s wife Mostarima Nitu said her husband, a non-smoker, did not even chew betel.

“They did not search the house, nor had they recovered any drugs,” she said.

His wife said Ariful was getting threats for his earlier reports which went against Kurigram Deputy Commissioner (DC) Sultana Pervin and the whole incident is nothing but vengeance.

Journalist Ariful had done a report about a renovated pond in Kurigram town that was named after the deputy commissioner.

Besides, he also made another report recently about irregularities regarding appointments at the DC’s office.

What happened at midnight?

According to Nitu, a group of people knocked at the door of their home in town, around 12:30am.

Later, seven or eight people in Ansar uniform entered the house by breaking open the door and started beating Ariful.

When he asked why he was being physically abused, they again assaulted him, Nitu said.

“Another 40 or 50 people were then standing outside the house. They were also guarding other houses so that no one could come to our aid,” she added.

“Before they entered our house, we called Sadar police station Officer-in-Charge (OC) Mahfuzur Rahman and informed him about the matter,” she continued.

“He (the OC) said no police personnel were sent to the house, and that he was looking into it,” Nitu further said.

Among the people who entered the house, there were two or three magistrates including Revenue Deputy Collector Nazim Uddin, she continued. At least a dozen Ansar members were with them.

Ariful was escorted directly to the DC office where a mobile court sentenced him to one year in jail, around 2am, Nitu added.

Torture made him weaker

“My husband has fallen ill. He is very sick and cannot stand properly, neither did he have the energy to talk to us properly,” said Nitu, sharing with Dhaka Tribune about the status of her husband.

Ariful was stripped and tortured blindfolded during the time he was kept at the DC office, she claimed after meeting her husband in Kurigram jail.

The whole incident was captured on video, she added.

“Ariful was beaten throughout his trip from home to the DC’s office. Later he was taken to a room where he was stripped. He was blindfolded and tortured while an official captured this on video,” she said, based on what her husband shared.

The husband also told the wife that he could identify all the voices who tortured him.

When asked on whether she can identify anyone of the team that broke into their house, she said she identified Nazim Uddin, senior assistant commissioner of the DC office.

“I went to the DC office to meet Nazim, but he told me that my husband is a drug addict and they do have evidence,” she said, adding: “The official however left the room when I asked for the evidence.”

Nazim Uddin, however, claimed that he was not at work on Friday night.

When asked, Kurigram DC Sultana Pervin told Dhaka Tribune that the raid at Ariful’s house in the midnight was planned much earlier following a request from the department of narcotics.

“The drive was planned much earlier, like other drives. They (law enforcement officials) raided the house and found the illegal substances there,” she claimed.

When asked if mobile courts can conduct drives at night, she said it was a drive of a special task force, not any mobile court.

Contrary to the DC’s claim about a planned raid, assistant director of the Department of Narcotics Control at Kurigram, Abu Zafar, said officials from his team accompanied the drive following a request from the DC office.

Contrary to the DC’s claim that the drive was planned earlier, Superintendent of Police (SP) Md Mohibul Islam Khan said they received a letter around 11pm on Friday from the DC office seeking police force for conducting a mobile court drive.

“We sent four police officials as per their request,” he said.

Assistant police super Utpal Roy, who is in charge of Kurigram Sadar Circle, said they went to the house of journalist Ariful following phone calls from journalists.

“We found the gate of the house was broken. We asked mobile teams, RAB-13 in Rangpur, and Lalmonirhat police to trace his location. Later we found him in the DC office,” he said.

“As we spoke to three magistrates there, we were informed that the journalist was taken into custody because of possession of half a bottle of liquor and 150 grams of cannabis,” he said.

Later, the team left the scene, said Roy.

The police official confirmed that no general diary or complaint or cases have been lodged against the journalist so far.

“I know him personally. He is a good soul. Why the incident took place I am not sure,” he said.

Citing the incident as illegal and unconstitutional, Supreme Court lawyer, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, urged the family of the victim to immediately appeal to the court against the action and seek action from the High Court against the act of the DC office and mobile court.

Protests everywhere

Journalists across Bangladesh, including Kurigram, vented their anger regarding the incident.

Various organisations including the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), and Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), anti corruption campaigner Transparency International Bangladesh, and political party Gono Songhoti Andolan, voiced their concern about the incident and demanded action against the people involved in the incident.

Netizens also protested on social media against the action of the district administration in the dead of night.

Govt initiates probe

The government on Saturday launched an inquiry into the jailing of the Dhaka Tribune journalist.

State minister for Public Administration Farhad Hossain said: “The operation of a mobile court at midnight is illegal. The deputy commissioner is not above the law.”

If anything wrong was done to the journalist, the deputy commissioner will face administrative action, he added.

Meanwhile, a team from the district administration met the victim’s wife last night and recorded her testimony.