The brother of Bangladeshi journalist Zulkarnain Saer Khan, who worked on an investigative report on the country’s prime minister, claims he was beaten with iron bars by four men in the capital Dhaka last week.
Mahinur Khan told Al Jazeera that four unknown men surrounded him when he went shopping in the Maripur district of Dhaka. “They attacked me with iron bars and said, ‘Your brother writes about the prime minister? Against the government? Is he a journalist? We’ll show you now,” said 37-year-old Mahinur on Thursday.
Mahinur’s brother, Zulkarnain Saer Khan, was one of the journalists who worked with Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I unit) on All the Prime Minister’s menan explosive investigation that linked senior Bangladeshi government officials to corruption.
Since then, Zulkarnain has worked with various media organizations, including Al Jazeera, Haaretz and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
After Friday’s attack, Mahinur, an entrepreneur, was taken to a hospital where he was treated for his injuries. He has since returned home after reporting the incident to the police.
Photos provided to Al Jazeera show Mahinur’s injuries to his legs and arms, and a broken phone.
Al Jazeera was unable to independently verify the photos.
Al Jazeera contacted the police in Dhaka for more information about the case, but received no response at the time of publishing this article.
All the Prime Minister’s men
Al Jazeera came out in February 2021 All the Prime Minister’s menwho exposed how a criminal gang colluded with Bangladesh’s security forces and has ties to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Haris Ahmed, the brother of then Bangladesh Army Chief Aziz Ahmed, boasted that he could use police and paramilitary units to kidnap rivals and earn millions in bribes.
Documents obtained by the I-Unit show that the Chief of the Army helped a convicted murderer evade justice. There are also indications that the country’s military intelligence has been secretly buying spyware from Israel – a country that does not recognize Bangladesh – to keep tabs on the prime minister’s political rivals.
Since his work on All the Prime Minister’s Men, Zulkarnain Bangladesh has fled to a safe location and his brother Mahinur has been questioned by the Bangladesh intelligence services.
Zulkarnain and Mahinur have not had regular contact since then, fearing that their phones would be tapped by Bangladesh’s security apparatus.
Commenting on the attack, Zulkarnain told Al Jazeera, “They will fail to scare me through this.”
Censorship and crackdown
Bangladesh has been widely criticized for its lack of freedom of the press.
Last month, the government shut down the newspaper of the country’s main opposition party.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a media watchdog, issued a report warning in the last week of February of an imminent crackdown on opposition media.
The Hasina government plans to shut down at least 191 news websites for “carrying out activities that confuse the public,” the RSF said.
The report also noted several instances of attacks against journalists and other media outlets critical of the ruling Awami League party.
In other cases, journalists received death threats for their reporting, the watchdog said.
When Hasina came to power in 2009, Bangladesh was ranked 121 out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. In the most recent ranking, the South Asian country is ranked 162nd.
Both the United Nations and independent human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have condemned human rights violations in Bangladesh, such as cases of enforced disappearances and torture.
In December 2021, the United States imposed sanctions on the country’s paramilitary forces – Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) – and accused them of enforced disappearances and committing extrajudicial killings.
Hasina denied in an interview with Al Jazeera earlier this month that her government is cracking down on the opposition.
“From 2009, when I formed the government, until now we have a continuous democratic process in our country and that is why the country has made progress,” Hasina told Al Jazeera, referring to the impressive economic growth during her tenure.
“Those who talk about this do not want a stable country and stable economic development.”