Shafik Rehman: 81-year-old British journalist facing death penalty in Bangladesh 'could die within months'

Pro-opposition journalist accused of plotting to murder son of Prime Minister

Harriet Agerholm
Tuesday 16 August 2016 18:08 BST
Shafik Rehman has been detained for four months without being charged
Shafik Rehman has been detained for four months without being charged

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An 81-year-old British journalist may die in a Bangladeshi jail before he has even been sentenced, his family have said.

Shafik Rehman's son Shumit told The Independent he did not expect his father to live to "see the year out".

The British-Bangladeshi journalist is accused of plotting to murder the son of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a crime that carries the death penalty.

Despite not yet being charged with any offence, he has now been detained for four months.

A well-known former BBC journalist and talk-show host, Mr Rehman is the third pro-opposition editor to be arrested in Bangladesh since 2013.

Both Mr Rehman and his wife were becoming physically ill because of the stress of his detention, Shumit said.

“Quite honestly, I’m not sure if either of them will see the year out," he said.

Mr Rehman has been receiving hospital treatment for chest pains since entering jail and is diabetic.

When Mr Rehman was first detained he was “sprightly”, according to his son, but after a month of interrogation he needed a wheelchair. After four months of jail, Mr Rehman could only walk while holding onto someone, his son said. He feared his father may suffer a "natural death" in prison if he was not released soon.

Mr Rehman’s 82-year-old wife is the only person allowed to see him, according to Shumit, and he is not allowed any telephone contact.

Appointments for Mr Rehman's bail hearing have previously been cancelled. The family say they have now been told there will be a hearing at the end of the month but have not been given a date.

“Sentencing is a long way off," Shumit said, before likening his father's situation to that of people held without charge at the infamous US-run detention centre in Cuba.

"The whole thing is a bit Guantanamo Bay," he said.

“It’s much easier never to charge him and just hold him in jail.”

Maya Foa, director of the death penalty team at Reprieve, a charity that has been working to free Mr Rehman, told The Independent: “Shafik Rehman has been put through a litany of injustices as ‘punishment’ for his journalism and his criticism of the government.

"First arrested by plainclothes officers posing as a TV crew, he’s since been held in such terrible conditions that he needs hospital treatment.

"Now the authorities seem intent on dragging out his detention for as long as possible, while they threaten him with charges that carry a potential death sentence.

"Given that Shafik is 81 and in poor health, this ongoing ordeal puts him in grave danger. The UK Government must urgently demand that Bangladesh release this British grandfather on bail – before it’s too late.”

Reprieve wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, urging him to support Mr Rehman's application for bail, but has yet to receive a reply.

In response to Mr Rehman's sustained imprisonment, a Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Our staff are continuing to provide consular assistance in this case, and will remain in contact with the family and local authorities.”

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