The detention of Shahriar Kabir, the IISH representative in Bangladesh, was declared "illegal" by the country's High Court, according to the Daily Star of January 13. "The court order, however, would not bring him out of the grill since the detainee also faces a sedition case," the paper added.
A well-known writer and journalist, Shahriar was arrested at Dhaka airport on November 22 on returning from India. Police seized his passport, five videocassettes, 13 audiocassettes, three CDs, a film and a camera. The Home Ministry said its preliminary investigation found that the materials contained information, statements and documentation against the interest of the country. "The government was aware that Shahriar Kabir has been engaged in anti-state activities outside the country for quite a long time and will take appropriate legal action against him," the ministry said in a statement. It said that Kabir had made a whirlwind tour across India with ulterior motives to shoot video films. The videos, the official release contended, contain manipulated interviews to "malign the elected government and also attempt to disturb communal harmony". Kabir's activities outside the country ran counter to national interest, state security and also were seditious. There is evidence that through these activities Kabir wanted to create an adverse situation by fanning up communalism, the statement added. Shahriar Kabir "in the interest of vested quarters was involved in tarnishing the image of Bangladesh and of the government in the outside world".
On November 25 the District Magistrate's Court in Dhaka ordered that Shahriar be detained for one month under the Special Powers Act of 1974. His arrest has since been prolonged, and he was refused bail on several occasions. On December 9, BBC News reported that he has been charged with treason.
Only on December 26 was he allowed access to his lawyers, in the presence of intelligence agents and a jailor. According to barrister Amir-ul Islam, "Kabir is sick, he is suffering from chest pain that may lead to a heart attack. But the authorities were not taking necessary steps for his treatment, Amir-ul Islam said. Doctors of the Jail also suggested ECG for Kabir. The judge instructed the authorities to take steps for his treatment. Kabir was suffering from respiratory problem when he was talking to the lawyers, Barrister Amir said" (The Independent, December 27). Meanwhile, Amnesty International has started a campaign for the immediate and unconditional release of Shahriar. Yet after a meeting with Begum Khaleda Zia, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, on December 26, Irina Z. Khan, AI's Secretary General, stated: "I told her we consider Shahriar as prisoner of conscience and demanded his release. The Prime Minister told me that it is a complicated case and his release right now is not possible" (News from Bangladesh, December 27).
During his recent stay in Kolkata (Calcutta), Shahriar, who is acting president of the South Asian Coalition Against Fundamentalism, gave an interview to the BBC, in which he stated he had documented widespread atrocities committed by Muslim radicals against members of the minority Hindu community in Bangladesh. The number of such incidents has increased after the October 1st elections, when a Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led coalition including the Jamaat-e-Islami came to power.
On December 19, Shahriar's daughter issued the following appeal:
I am Arpita Shahriar, proud daughter of the noted journalist, writer and filmmaker Shahriar Kabir, who has been jailed by the government for his stand against those who opposed the very birth of Bangladesh. Amid pain and mental suffering every minute and every day, I want to say I am proud to be the daughter of such a brave man. A man, who is not double-faced, but committed to his beliefs and ideology. I am sure anybody else would feel the same as it is surely a luck to be the daughter of Shahriar Kabir.
Coming from a family of freedom fighters -- two of them, journalist Shahidullah Kaiser and filmmaker Zahir Raihan, are internationally well known for their contribution to the cause of independence -- the fight against those who opposed it is not alien to me. This is especially so because of my father Shahriar Kabir, someone who has been an uncompromising voice against the collaborators of the Pakistan Army during our Liberation War in 1971. He was made an 'anti-state' man in 1992 because he played a leading role against them under the banner of the Ekkaturer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee for Resisting Killers and Collaborators of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971), which he now heads as the acting chief. But the tragedy is, the collaborators, mostly known as 'Razakars', are still free -- and my father, a freedom fighter under Sector Nine, in jail.
The main political party which collaborated and abetted in the atrocities with the Pakistan Army, is the Muslim fundamentalist 'Jamat-E-Islami' party. The Jamat, with two major Ministers, Mowlana Motiur Rahman Nizami and Mowlana Ali Ahsan Muzahid, is a major part of Begum Khalida Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led Government. My father may have been taken to task as he made a documentary film named 'Cry for Justice' on their (Jamat-e-Islami) activities during the 1971 War. We have been asked by this government to produce my father's certificate to prove whether he was a freedom fighter or not.
Following the October 1, 2001, general elections my father took a stand to stop torture and repression of the Hindu minority community. He wrote daily to highlight their plight in different newspapers and also visited a number of districts to see for himself their plight as well as to interview them. Then he traveled to India and interviewed those who took shelter there fleeing Bangladesh because of the torture and repression. On his return home on November 22, 2001, he was arrested at the airport, but he never bowed down to any pressure as his writing always reflected -- never to bow down to any wrong. He has been kept with murderers and petty criminals and refused permission to meet his family as part of physical and mental torture. He was brought to court with handcuffs to humiliate him as a common criminal, although he is still innocent in the eyes of the law.
We missed him on his birthday, which was just two days before his arrest, and on Eid, the greatest Muslim festival. A day of rejoicing and showing tolerance, but the members of his family were not allowed to exchange greetings on this auspicious day. We are still waiting to give his birthday gift and hope it is not far away. He knew we are waiting with his gift and told he would celebrate with us once he was back home in Bangladesh. Everything is disrupted in our life from November 22, 2001. I don't know when life will be like the good old days. I myself and my mother are waiting to give him his gift and welcome him back home, while my 11 year old brother Arpon Shahriar has become quiet. The house itself has lost its life, although it is decorated with his collection of paintings, collection of masks from around the world and souvenirs. The garden does not have many flowers, because the gardener -- my father -- is in jail. He is a man who loves nature, flowers and life -- the life of other people -- and that is his commitment. A man like him cannot be imprisoned for long. I hope the government will free him with due respect immediately. I am waiting for that moment.
I am humbly requesting World Conscience to take urgent and forceful steps to ensure the government is forced to free my father and safe his life and our family.
Ga-16 Mohakhali, Dhaka-1212
On November 26, the IISH wrote a letter to Begum Khaleda Zia, in which it said:
It is with great alarm that we have learned about the sudden arrest of one of Bangladesh's foremost public intellectuals, Mr Shahriar Kabir. We understand that as yet no formal charges have been brought against him, but numerous reports in the Bangladeshi, Indian and British press mention informal charges of 'anti-state activities.' According to these reports, Mr Kabir is held under the Special Powers Act of 1974. If so, this runs counter to your party's electoral commitment not to use emergency laws against the press.
We are shocked that a writer and journalist of Mr Kabir's standing, who has done so much to project a positive image of Bangladesh in the wider world, should be accused of harming the interests of Bangladesh. There is no doubt in our minds that Mr Kabir deserves his country's respect rather than censure for his activities in support of justice, freedom of speech and human rights, and for his role as a cultural ambassador for Bangladesh.
We have known Mr Kabir as a highly valued colleague and friend for many years. The International Institute of Social History, which is affiliated to the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, has been active in preserving the social history of Bangladesh. Mr Kabir has been of invaluable help to us in this respect, and we are extremely concerned about the recent news of his arrest.
We ask you for the immediate release of Mr Shahriar Kabir.
Reporters without Borders (Paris) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (New York) have also written letters demanding his immediate release.
On August 28, 2000 Shahriar was attacked when returning home from a meeting at Dhaka University and stabbed in the face and right hand. He told local reporters that his attackers were members of the Harkat-ul-Jihad, a radical organization said to have links with the then Taliban regime in Afghanistan.