A total of 15 press freedom and human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), recently urged Bangladesh authorities to work closely with the lawyer of Nusrat Shahrin Raka, sister of exiled journalist Kanak Sarwar, to ensure her quick release from jail.

On October 5, Rapid Action Battalion or RAB members raided Raka's home in the capital's Uttara and took her to the headquarter of the force along with her three sons who are minors.

RAB released the sons after approximately 30 hours, but they held Raka for an extended interrogation, during which Raka was questioned repeatedly about her brother Kanak Sarwar's criticism of the Bangladesh government.

According to RAB's first information report which was filed on October 5, 2021, under the Digital Security Act, Raka was accused of posting comments on Facebook critical of Bangladesh government officials and agencies.

But Raka claimed that the account was fraudulent, and she reported the same to the police station in Uttara. Facebook later removed the account for violating its policies on "inauthentic behaviour."

Raka has been living in the Kashimpur, Gazipur jail in an overcrowded cell with other 50 people. According to her family, Raka was diagnosed with Covid-19, and she is recovering from the virus now, and she is unable to assist in the care of her sons as well. One of her sons is suffering from serious medical issues, claimed her family.

"We are deeply concerned about Raka's fundamental right to prompt judicial review in light of her family's claim that the state postponed her bail hearing at the High Court on five separate occasions in December 2021 and January 2022 before the court refused to grant bail on January 25, 2022, despite asking the state to explain why Raka should not be granted bail in the Digital Security Act case," a joint statement of the rights groups, which sent to Abu Mohammad Amin Uddin, the Attorney General of Bangladesh, and other officials including the Minister of Law, Anisul Haq and the Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan.

The rights groups also requested the Attorney General of Bangladesh to cease the judicial harassment of Kanak Sarwar by dropping all unwarranted charges brought against him in relation to his journalistic work. They also called on the Bangladesh authorities to repeal the Digital Security Act unless it can be promptly amended in line with international human rights law.

"Further, we welcome Law Minister Anisul Haq's acknowledgement that the Digital Security Act has been "misused and abused." If the Bangladesh government is unable to amend the Digital Security Act to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression as guaranteed under international human rights law and standards, then it must take immediate steps to repeal the law," the statement further reads.

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