According to a statement by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) on Monday, the abduction and horrific torture of Chattogram journalist Golam Sarwar was another threat to independent journalism.
Though TIB expressed relief in Sarwar's return three days after his disappearance, the organization declined to accept his return in a half-dead and deranged state as an isolated incident.
The anti-corruption watchdog demanded proper investigation into the incident and exemplary punishment of the culprits.
In a media release Monday, TIB Executive Director, Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "The disappearance of journalist Golam Sarwar, followed by his return in a half-dead and deranged state – these are not isolated incidents at all. This has happened due to the ongoing threats, intimidation and torture to try and gag the free press and obstruct independent journalism."
He said, "Sarwar's terrified cries of 'Brother, do not beat me, I will not write news anymore' are not just the pleas of a helpless man, but is glaring evidence of the draconian torture methods for publishing news, and yet another attempt to stop brave journalism. It is as if the overall media scenario in the country is reflected in Sarwar's cries."
Dr Zaman said TIB is concerned about the culture of impunity despite the frequent incidents of torture on journalists and assaults on the media.
He said, "It will not be an exaggeration to say that the government's repeated statements on free media and independent journalism are just political eyewash."
Referring to the claims of Sarwar's colleagues, TIB pointed out that Sarwar might have been abducted and tortured for publishing reports against local influential and political figures.
The TIB executive director referred to similar incidents in the past, which were not properly investigated, nor did the victims get justice.
"Shall we then assume that the government and law enforcement do not take the disappearance, assault, torture, and abduction of journalists seriously?" Dr Zaman questioned.
"We are terrified to see the blatant attempts to normalize the torture of journalists and dismiss them as isolated incidents. Is all this happening to protect the illegitimate interests of people of influence and to prevent negative news coverage about them?" Dr Zaman questioned further.
TIB referred to the example of another journalist, Shafiqul Islam Kajol, noting that instead of solving the mystery over his disappearance, he was arrested in an apparently fabricated case of illegal entry into his own country.
"The state and law enforcement officers are supposed to use all their resources to locate a missing person, but failure to do has become too regular an occurrence," said TIB.
TIB said, "Under the pressure of various laws, including the Digital Security Act, the media itself is being forced into 'self-censorship', which is in conflict with the idea of an independent democratic state."
TIB called upon the government to pave the way for free journalism immediately. It also demanded exemplary punishment for proven perpetrators of torture and assassination of journalists.