A Ph.D. student at Michigan State University said his mother was arrested in Bangladesh after he criticized the country's government in a Facebook post.
Tanzilur Rahman, who is pursuing his doctorate in materials science and engineering, said his mother, 58, was arrested by the Bangladesh Police on Sunday. Three days before, he posted his thoughts on the Bangladesh government’s role in the war crime trials of a prominent preacher and leader in the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a major Islamist political party in the country.
“As a son, it is very upsetting that, because of your opinion, your mother has been detained. It’s really upsetting,” Rahman told NBC News.
Court documents translated by NBC News said that Rahman’s mother, Anisa Siddika, was arrested at 11:40 a.m. at her parents’ home and charged with “planning to sabotage various vital installations, conspiracies, and sabotage against the government in protest against the arrest of multiple leaders and activists of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami.” Rahman said he had hired an attorney to work on the case and obtain these documents.
Siddika was charged under the Special Powers Act of 1974 after police said they were patrolling the area based on “secret information” and learned that political leaders and activists were at the home. The documents alleged that Siddika had arranged secret meetings against the government, which Rahman said was a baseless claim. She was denied bail because the police said she would “abscond,” according to the documents.
In his Facebook post, Rahman, 30, questioned the 2013 trial and sentencing of Islamic leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee and the disappearance of a key witness for his defense. Sayedee was charged with rape, murder and the persecution of Hindus during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. He died in prison last week, which prompted mass protests, Al Jazeera reported.
Rahman believes his Aug. 17 post was the real reason for his mother’s arrest.
“I don’t think any people with a logical mind would have arranged that meeting in their elderly parents’ house,” he said. Rahman said it was easy for the police to locate Siddika since his grandparents have lived in their house since 1962 and are well respected in the area.
Rahman said his family in Bangladesh only saw Siddika once during her bail hearing on Wednesday and Thursday. “We are kind of hopeless right now,” he said.
The Bangladesh Police did not respond to requests for comment. The Bangladesh Embassy and Consulate General of Bangladesh did not respond to request for comment.
Rahman’s Facebook post, which gained traction in the Bangladeshi community in and outside the country, criticized enforced disappearances in which the government directly or indirectly kidnaps people and detains them — a common practice in the country. But he said he was surprised that it was used against his mother.
“I’m not a famous columnist or not a very known person. So, I did not expect that this would happen to my family,” he said.
Experts say the incident speaks to a growing concern about censorship in the country.
Ali Riaz, a politics and government professor at Illinois State University, said Siddika’s arrest is part of a larger concern in Bangladesh and the diaspora.
For Riaz, the most pressing issue is “the persecution of … families of the diaspora who speak out,” he said. “Someone who is away from Bangladesh, who is an adult, made a comment, whatever that comment is, expressed his opinion. That by no means legally, ethically, morally justified persecuting his family. The government is putting a different story for arresting the student’s mother, but that’s not a justifiable action by any means. And this is not exceptional.”
Riaz said he believes the problem is only expected to worsen, especially as the country inches closer to an election in January, a vote that has serious implications for the future of Bangladesh’s democracy, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank.
“To me, whether he’s supporting a cleric with a checkered past or is controversial — that’s not the point," Riaz said of Rahman. "The point is his freedom of expression. The point is that parents or relatives can be persecuted for the opinions of an adult.
“Innocent people are being harassed and persecuted. This single incident pretty much exemplified what is going on in Bangladesh and what is coming as well.”
From January 2023 to July, 144 journalists from different media outlets have been tortured, harassed, threatened or sued nationwide, a Bangladesh-based legal aid and human rights organization, Ain o Salish Kendra, found.
The human rights group Amnesty International demanded Siddika's released in a statement Wednesday.
“Arresting a mother immediately after her son’s social media post criticizing the government is ludicrous and a new low in Bangladesh, where endless reports of arbitrary detention of opposition politicians and activists in the lead up to next year’s general election has created a climate of fear and distrust,” said Nadia Rahman, interim deputy regional director of research for South Asia at Amnesty International.