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Bangladesh: Murder of DW reporter unsolved 10 years on

February 10, 2022

Family members and critics are calling for justice, a decade after former DW journalist Sagar Sarowar and his wife, Meherun Runi, were killed in Bangladesh.

Journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi
Sagar Sarowar's mother says she has lost hope of finding justice for Sarowar and his wife Meherun RuniImage: imago images/ZUMA Wire

Ten years after the gruesome murder of Bangladeshi journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi, police are still looking for the killers. Critics have said the case indicates a lack of willingness on the part of authorities to solve the case.

Sarowar, who was a former DW journalist, was found dead alongside his journalist wife Mehrun Runi, in the bedroom of their apartment in Bangladesh's capital city, Dhaka, on February 11, 2012.

Police said that Sarowar had been tied up, and he and his wife had been stabbed multiple times. Their bodies were discovered early in the morning by their then five-year-old son.

Sarowar had worked as a radio host and editor with DW's Bengali service for three years in Bonn, the former capital of Germany, before returning to his home country. While working with DW, he conducted several interviews with top political leaders of the South Asian country and covered political, social and environmental issues.

The murder, which shocked Bangladesh, took place just eight months after the couple's return to Dhaka. At the time of their deaths, Sarowar worked as the news chief of Maasranga TV, while Runi was a senior reporter for the ATN Bangla TV channel.

Why were they killed?

Right after the murder, Sahara Khatun, the home minister at the time, vowed to find the killers within 48 hours. However, 10 years have passed since the promise was made, and police are yet to discover the motive behind the murder.

Hindu minority is under attack

Runi's brother Nowsher Roman, who filed the murder case, expressed shock and frustration over the authorities' failure to solve the issue.

"Bangladesh police have solved many mysterious cases in the past. It's hard to believe that they were not able to find a clue behind the couple's murder even after such a long time," Roman told DW.

"It seems like the killers are very powerful. And nobody wants to identify them. Even journalists haven't done any in-depth investigation into it," he added.

Roman recalled that just two laptops and a phone went missing from the apartment after the killing —  the killers hadn't taken anything else from the apartment, which was in the middle of a busy neighborhood, and didn't search for anything in any other rooms. The couple's only son, who was sleeping in his room during the murder, remained unharmed.

"The killers took Sarowar's laptops and mobile phone with them after the murder. Mysteriously, they didn't take Runi's phone or any other valuable goods from the apartment," Roman said.

"Sarowar used those devices for his journalistic work," he added.

Daniel Bastard, head of the Paris-based rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF), believes the government of the Muslim-majority country hasn't done enough to solve the case.

"There are two non-conflicting hypotheses: On the one hand, there has clearly been some mismanagement by the police force, the prosecutor's office, and ultimately, by the government," he told DW.

"On the other hand, suspicions remain extremely high regarding the motives behind the murder, and the link with the two journalists' investigative work, starting with [their work on] high-level corruption," he added.

Heightened fear among journalists

Bangladesh's press freedom situation has changed significantly over the past decade following the couple's murder.  A climate of fear has taken hold in the media sector as the murder remains unsolved, even after protests demanding justice for the pair. Many journalists have limited their investigative work and chosen self-censorship over the past few years.

"Authorities must provide an explanation as to why the investigation into the killing of Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi has taken so long and remains inconclusive even after more than a decade," Smriti Singh, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for South Asia, told DW.

"Repeat failures to identify those responsible not only erodes the faith of the people in the law enforcement and justice system, but also shows a lack of accountability on the part of authorities," said Singh.

"Such prolonged delays bolster fear among journalists for the work they do, and the lack of protection that they are afforded by the state," Singh added.

Bastard pointed out that Bangladesh has dropped eight positions in RSF's World Press Freedom Index since 2013, from 144 to 152.

"Of course, this cannot be explained only by the February 11, 2012 killing. But the ongoing impunity around this case must be understood as a symptom of a larger trend of deterioration of the level of press freedom in Bangladesh," said Bastard.

Journalists continue to demand justice

Local journalists have continued demanding justice for their colleagues. Farida Yasmin, president of Bangladesh's Press Club, blames what she sees as a culture of impunity on the negligence of authorities to find clues.

"Not only the couple's murder case, but many other incidents of attacks on journalists have also remained unsolved. Journalists often don't get justice," she told DW.

"Apart from the police, investigative journalists could have investigated the murder, but they didn't do that either,” Yasmin added.

After the police force failed to solve the case, the country's elite police force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) has taken on the duty of investigating the murder. However, it missed 85 dates to produce an investigative report before the courts in Dhaka.

Transgender anchor hopes to drive change in Bangladesh

A spokesperson of the Legal and Media Wing of the force said it needs more time to solve the murder.

"We have interrogated around 160 people in connection with the murder in the past few years. We even took eight of them to remand. But the motive behind the killing is yet to be discovered,” the spokesperson told DW.

"Some DNA samples of the suspects were sent to a forensics lab in the US a few years ago. We are still waiting for the result,” the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, Saleha Munir, the mother of Sagar Sarowar, says she's lost hope of getting justice for her son and daughter-in-law.

"I have been left clueless about the killing. I want to know the truth, whatever it is, before my death,” she said.

Edited by: Leah Carter

DW Arafatul Islam Multimedia Journalist
Arafatul Islam Multimedia journalist focusing on Bangladeshi politics, human rights and migration.@arafatul