“Didn’t have the option to be scared”

Jailed Bangladeshi journalist Shafiqul Kajol's son on his disappearance and arrest

25 July 2020
17 November, 1999 | “My first birthday at my maternal grandparent’s house in Purbo Kafrul in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in my mother's lap wearing a crown.”
COURTESY MONOROM POLOK
17 November, 1999 | “My first birthday at my maternal grandparent’s house in Purbo Kafrul in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in my mother's lap wearing a crown.”
COURTESY MONOROM POLOK

On 10 March 2020, Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a Dhaka-based photojournalist and the editor of The Daily Pokkhokal, a daily newspaper, went missing after he left his office in the evening. Fifty three days later, he was found near the Bangladesh-India border in Jessore district, bound and blindfolded, laying on a field.

The night before Kajol’s disappearance, Saifuzzaman Shikhor, a member of parliament from the ruling Bangladesh Awami League had filed a case against the photojournalist and 31 others, under Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act, or DSA. On 2 March, Manab Zamin, a Bangla daily, had published a story on Shamima Nur Papia, a now-expelled leader of the Jubo Mohila League, the women’s youth division of the Awami League. Papia had been arrested in connection with a sex-trade racket. Manab Zamin’s report noted that during her interrogation, Papia told the police the names of politicians, government ministers, bureaucrats and businessmen who were her clients. The report did not specifically name any of the individuals. Shikhor accused the Manab Zamin editor and the concerned reporter of publishing “false, fabricated and defamatory” news and others of circulating this news on social media. Kajol was among those who had shared Manab Zamin’s report on Facebook.

Since the DSA’s enactment in 2018, human-rights groups have criticised the stringent act for stifling free speech and silencing dissent. As Amnesty International noted, the act gives the government’s Digital Security Agency the power to initiate investigations into anyone whose activities are deemed harmful or a threat. It gives the police the power to arrest anyone, without a warrant, simply on suspicion that a crime may be committed using digital media. In the last six months, over 100 people have been arrested under the DSA. Following his appearance at the Bangladesh border on 3 May, Kajol was detained in jail. On 23 June, Kajol was arrested in connection with the Manab Zamin case and denied bail. He is currently in custody at the Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj. At the time of publishing, it had been over 120 days since Kajol first disappeared.

After his disappearance, Monorom Polok, Kajol’s 21-year-old son, started an online campaign called “Where is Kajol?” to raise awareness about his father’s case and subsequent arrest. As part of the campaign, Polok created photo projects that he shared on social media. In one called “Where is my father?” he digitally altered photos from old family albums. He erased Kajol from the photos to show audiences what his father’s disappearance has meant to their family. On 12 July, Utkarsh, a photo-intern at The Caravan, spoke to Polok about his photo campaign, the case against Kajol, and toll it has taken on the family.

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Utkarsh is a photo intern at The Caravan.

Keywords: Digital Security Act Bangladesh Journalists' arrest press freedom
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