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Bangladeshi scribe details torture
Vicky Nanjappa | February 15, 2008 13:21 IST
Tasneem Khalil, a Bangladeshi journalist who worked for the Daily Star and CNN, who was picked up by Bangladeshi military intelligence in May 2007 and kept in detention for over 22 hours, has written about his ordeal in a Human Rights Watch report.
The agencies suspected that he was an Indian spy and was providing vital information on Bangladesh to India.
Khalil was kept in a detention centre operated by the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and tortured during his 22-hour ordeal.
According to Khalil, armed men who claimed to belong to the 'joint forces' came to his apartment in central Dhaka. In front of his wife and child, they pressed a gun against his lips, blindfolded him and brought him to a waiting car.
He was taken to an interrogation center run by the DGFI, where he was held in a cell specially designed for torture.
Khalil was threatened with execution and repeatedly kicked and beaten with batons on the head, arms, abdomen and other parts of the body. He was forced to confess to -- and implicate friends and colleagues in -- anti-state and anti-military activities. He was also forced to confess to the smuggling of sensitive national security information to foreign organisations.
Khalil was also punished for his criticism of the security forces' role in extra judicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests, and other human rights abuses.
After his release, he spent a month in hiding before fleeing Bangladesh. He went to Sweden, where he was granted asylum, along with his family. Khalil spoke for the first time about his experiences and the same has been documented by a Human Rights Watch report.
The intelligence agencies also wanted to know how CNN was planning to cover the return of Awami League president Sheikh Hasina, who had refused to go into exile. They inquired about his contacts with senior figures of the Awami League.
"They asked me to confess that I worked for the Awami League and that I knew of a plan by a senior Awami League figure to assassinate people, create mass unrest, engineer bomb blasts, and topple the current interim government. I told them I had read something along these lines on a pro-military online discussion board, widely believed to be run by DGFI," said Khalil in the report.
"At one point, another officer came in and everyone stood up to show him respect. I think he was one of the top brigadier generals. Still blindfolded, I was told to greet him by standing up. He then asked me to sit down. My head was facing downwards. He asked me to hold my head up, and said to me, 'You bloody look like a malaun [an anti-Hindu slur].'
He then asked me, 'Why did you go to the Indian High Commission? Who did you meet there? Speak the truth because I have all the information with me.'
I said I went there to get a long-term Indian visa and meet an official who could arrange it. They were pressing me to confess that I worked for the Indian intelligence. They started beating me again. The senior officer took a baton and kept ramming it hard under my navel and lower abdominal area. I was in severe pain. The beating and torture seemed to go on for an eternity. At some point it stopped.
Someone started reading from a Bengali translation of the Human Rights Watch report on extra judicial executions by the Rapid Action Battalion (an anti-crime and anti-terrorism elite force) that I had worked on. In the recommendation section, it was suggested that the United Nations end the participation of Bangladesh military personnel with a record of involvement in torture, in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
This touches a raw nerve, as the military's involvement in international peacekeeping is both a great source of pride and money for the army. These funds allow the military to buy the loyalty of many in its ranks. Anyone who touches this sacred cow is an enemy of the army," Khalil said.
In the report, Khalil recalls more details about the room in which he was held captive, as his blindfold was taken off after the ordeal. He saw that he was in a torture cell, a small room with no windows and a wooden door.
"The room was soundproofed with a wooden wall covered with small holes, like in an old recording studio. There were two closed circuit television cameras in the corners attached to the ceiling. There was a fan. I was sitting in front of a table and three batons were on the table, along with some stationery. Poking out of the end of these two were metal wires, which appeared to fill the plastic covers. The plastic and wire batons were a little shorter than the wooden one. I assume these were the batons they tortured me with," he stated.