Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas

Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas
Rohingya refugees are seen next to eatery stalls at the housing complex of Bhashan Char island after they were relocated in Noakhali on December 30, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 04 January 2021

Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas

Bangladesh says photographer’s arrest not related to controversial transfer of Rohingyas
  • Activists say Abul Kalam was arrested while taking photographs of buses with Rohingyas on their way to a controversial island camp

DHAKA: Bangladeshi authorities on Sunday denied accusations that a Rohingya photographer in judicial custody was arrested for documenting the relocation of refugees from Cox’s Bazar to a controversial island camp in the Bay of Bengal.

Rights activists, including Bianca Jagger and Bangladeshi filmmaker Shaifur Rahman, on Friday called for the release of Abul Kalam, who they said was taking photographs of buses with Rohingya refugees on their way to the Bhasan Char island.

A second group of more that 1,804 Rohingya refugees — members of an ethnic and religious minority group who have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar — were on Tuesday taken to Bhasan Char, despite UN concerns for their safety and welfare as the island is prone to flooding and severe weather conditions. They followed a first group of 1,642 relocated to the island, 30 km from the mainland, in early December.

“Kalam was handed over to Ukhia subdistrict police station on Wednesday in connection with a case filed in June 2020. We produced him before the court on Thursday and currently he is being kept in judicial custody,” Cox’s Bazar Additional Superintendent of Police Rafikul Islam told Arab News.

Kalam, 35, has been living in Bangladesh for the past 28 years. He has been charged with obstructing government work and assaulting officials while discharging duties.

Rights activists say he was apprehended on Monday and handed over to a police station on Wednesday.

“They produced him as an ‘unnamed fugitive’ from a case going back to May 28. Not for anything that happened on Dec. 28, the day of the Bhasan Char relocation, but an incident which allegedly happened seven months earlier,” Rahman, who has been documenting Rohingya refugees and is the initiator of the campaign to release Kalam, told Arab News.

He said it was an attempt to shift the focus from Bhasan Char.

“The removal of focus from what Abul Kalam was doing on Dec. 28 — photographing Bhasan Char buses — is also conveniently handled by involving him in an unrelated case going back months,” Rahman said.

According to activists involved in the campaign to release Kalam, he came to Bangladesh from Maungdaw in Rakhine State, in the western part of Myanmar, and is a prolific photographer who has documented refugee life in recent years, and recently won two prizes in the Rohingya Photography Competition.

Mohammad Sazzad Hossain, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) spokesman in Dhaka, told Arab News that UNHCR has been engaged with authorities since Kalam’s arrest and is providing legal aid to ensure he receives a fair hearing of any charge against him.

“UNHCR has assigned one of its partner lawyers to represent him during the investigation and any subsequent legal proceedings,” he said.


Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 43 min 33 sec ago

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”