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Bangladeshi who spoke to DW about police brutality, arrested

Kieran Burke | Arafatul Islam
April 10, 2023

Nafiz Mohammed Alam appeared in a DW investigation on Bangladesh's counterterrorism force RAB last week. DW has established that he is now being held in jail in Dhaka.

Nafiz Mohammed Alam
Journalists who interviewed Nafiz Mohammed Alam as part of an investigation into the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) counterterrorism unit have expressed concern over Alam's safetyImage: Birgitta Schülke/DW

A 23-year-old Bangladeshi man who recounted his experience of being brutally tortured to DW's investigative unit at the hands of Bangladesh's elite counterterrorism force — the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) — was arrested on Sunday night, just days after the story was published.

What we know about Alam's arrest

Arafatul Islam — who was part of DW's investigative team — spoke with close contacts of Alam, who confirmed that police had taken him from his apartment in Dhaka at around 6:30 p.m. local time (12:30 GMT). He was then taken to a local police station where he was being held. 

Abdul Ahad, the Deputy Commissioner of Gulshan Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, later confirmed Alam's arrest to DW.

"He was arrested yesterday evening over a pornography case filed in 2021. A new arrest warrant was issued recently due to the case that police followed," Ahad said.

Police filed the pornography case in November 2021 following the raid by RAB, at his apartment as mentioned in DW's investigation.

"Police also found some alcohol bottles when they raided his apartment yesterday and are planning to file a new lawsuit based on the findings," said Ahad. "He has been sent to court today.''

People in Bangladesh need permission from authorities to consume alcohol. Alam told DW in January that he had permission to do so.

Islam said that contacts of Alam had informed him that he had been taken to jail after appearing in court.

Joint investigation uncovered extrajudicial killings, torture

The DW exposé, written in collaboration with Sweden-based Netra News and published on April 3, investigated the alleged actions of Bangladesh's elite police unit and featured accounts from Alam and some others along with unnamed former members of the unit.

Their accounts detailed the inner workings of the RAB and revealed instances of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture at the hands of the elite unit.

The allegations made by former commanders suggest that key figures in the ruling government may be using the elite force for political gain, with tacit approval, from the highest offices in Bangladesh.

In Alam's case, he was arrested by the RAB on November 3rd, 2021, and accused of illegally selling alcohol, a controlled substance in Bangladesh.

Alam said he was the victim of torture over a 36-hour period and recounted being beaten and given shocks with electricity before eventually being released.

The DW Investigative Unit and Netra News confronted the Home Ministry, the Prime Minister's Office and RAB to respond to the allegations.

A RAB spokesman referred to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which, in turn, wrote that it had "diligently assessed and scrutinized the issues and found that the issues are overstated, exaggerated, baseless and untrue."

Concern over Alam's well-being

Naomi Conrad and Birgitta Schülke, were part of the DW investigative team that interviewed Alam and said his account of what happened was a vital part of the story.

"We wanted to talk to Alam because we knew he had spent time in RAB's secret detention facilities, which was something our whistleblowers had talked about. And it was important to us to corroborate their accounts with other sources, including his testimony," Conrad said.

"When we met with him, we talked about his security and also the risks of going on the record. He was still adamant to do so, despite the risks," said Schülke.

The journalists expressed their concern over Alam's immediate safety.

"He was well aware that something like this might happen and had taken some precautions — but sadly, the security forces seem bent on silencing our interview partners. We are very worried for his safety," Schülke said.

Tasneem Khalil who is the Editor-in-Chief of Netra News, tweeted about Alam's arrest and said developments were being closely watched.

"Nafiz Mohammed Alam, the 23-year-old torture survivor who was featured in the recent DW-Netra News investigation into RAB, has been arrested by Bangladesh police and taken to Vatara police station in Dhaka. We are monitoring this closely," Khalil said in a Twitter post.

Editorial Note: Nafiz Mohammed Alam was granted bail and released on June 6th, 2023. His trial is still pending.

Edited by: Richard Connor

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