Bangladesh authorities detain sister of exiled journalist Kanak Sarwar

Bangladesh authorities must immediately release Nusrat Shahrin Raka, cease targeting journalists’ family members, and commit to allowing the media to operate without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Very early yesterday morning, officers with the police Rapid Action Battalion raided Raka’s home in Uttara, a suburb of Dhaka, and took her and her three sons to the battalion’s headquarters in Dhaka, according to news reports and Kanak Sarwar, a journalist and Raka’s brother, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview.

Sarwar, who lives in exile in the United States, told CPJ that he believed that the arrest was in retaliation for his journalism and that Raka, who is a homemaker, had not committed any crime.

Police repeatedly questioned Raka about Sarwar, asking why he opposed the Bangladesh government and calling him “a freedom fighter,” Sarwar told CPJ, saying that he was able to briefly speak on the phone with his sister in detention. He said that authorities released Raka’s sons after about 30 hours, but she remains detained in a cell with no bed.

The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Dhaka ordered Raka to be detained for five days, Sarwar said, adding that she suffers from asthma and has experienced difficulty breathing in custody as she is recovering from COVID-19. He also said that police broke several items inside the house during the raid, including closets and jewelry boxes.

Sarwar told CPJ that he believes all authorities’ accusations against his sister are false.

“Punishing exiled journalist Kanak Sarwar by arresting his sister, Nusrat Shahrin Raka, is a crude and barbaric form of retaliation that should shame the government of Bangladesh,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately release Raka, cease targeting critical journalists or their family members, and allow the media to operate without interference.”

In a press release issued yesterday, which CPJ reviewed, the Rapid Action Battalion alleged that Raka was involved in “destroying peace and order in the country by spreading false, defamatory, and provocative information about the government and important personalities of the state on social media” and accused her of involvement with an unnamed group engaging in “conspiratorial propaganda activities” with Sarwar.