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Mother who was arrested after son criticized Bangladesh government online is released on bail

“I’m physically OK, but mentally, I am not well,” said Anisa Siddika, who was detained for eight days.
Tanzilur Rahman with his mother, Anisa Siddika.
Tanzilur Rahman with his mother, Anisa Siddika.Courtesy Tanzilur Rahman

The mother of a Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, who was arrested by the national Bangladesh Police and charged with “sabotage” against the government, according to court documents, was released on bail after having been detained for over a week.

Anisa Siddika, 58, was arrested three days after her son, Tanzilur Rahman, posted his thoughts on Facebook about the government’s role in the war crimes trials of a prominent preacher and controversial leader, Delwar Hossain Sayedee, who recently died, according to Al Jazeera.

Siddika is at home with her family in Bangladesh but is still shaken up by her arrest and detainment, Rahman said.

“I’m physically OK, but mentally, I am not well,” Siddika said in an interview that her son translated.

According to court documents, Siddika was accused of arranging secret meetings against the government in her parents’ home, which Rahman said was a baseless claim. He believes it was because of his Facebook post, which got traction in the Bangladeshi community in and outside the country. 

After she was arrested on Aug. 20, Siddika was denied bail twice before she was released Monday.

“They didn’t even inform me what the charges against me were,” she said. 

Rahman said that while she was in police custody, Siddika, who is a practicing Muslim, was ordered to remove her hijab. The police department later took a photo of her without her hijab, which was posted online. Sunni Muslims are about 91% of the population. The forced removal of the traditional head covering and veil is considered degrading by practicing Muslims like Siddika. 

“One of the most upsetting parts is that she is an elderly religious woman, and they made her remove her hijab before transferring her to court. So many have seen that photo they forced her to take online,” he said. 

Rahman said Siddika wasn’t provided food, space to sleep or the opportunity to pray for nearly 12 hours in police custody. She added that she shared a small cell with six other women once she was transferred after her court appearance the following day.

The Bangladeshi Embassy and the Bangladeshi Consulate General in the U.S. didn’t respond to requests for comment. Neither did the police department.

Rahman hadn’t heard the specific details of her mother’s experience until they spoke with NBC News. “This is very upsetting for me. I didn’t ask her all the details, so this is all very difficult for me to hear,” he said.

Nadia Rahman, the interim deputy director for South Asia for the human rights group Amnesty International, said that Siddika’s release is a step in the right direction but that she shouldn’t have been detained at all.

“The unlawful punishment of a parent for her son merely expressing his opinion sends a chilling message to all Bangladeshis, including those in the diaspora,” Rahman, who isn’t related to Tanzilur Rahman, wrote in an email. “The week-long imprisonment of Anisha Siddika is only another example of the clampdown on dissent and free expression — both inside and outside the country — in the lead-up to next year’s general election.”

Ali Riaz, a politics and government professor at Illinois State University, has told NBC News that 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. He believes the problem will only worsen as the country moves close to its election in January, which will have serious implications for the future of Bangladesh’s democracy.

“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,” he said.