Only Connect

The Torture of Tasneem Khalil

Last week I received an email from a dear friend. The email came from Sweden, on Valentine’s Day. I have spent the better part of this week trying to craft a response. I have failed. This post is my attempt at a response.

This blog is anti-torture. There is a logo on the sidebar of this blog that declares the unequivocal position of this blog and its author. Being anti-torture seems to me to be a commonsense position to hold. It is however not a position that is universally held. There are torturers in this world and there are those who aid and abet the torturers. Then there are the victims. My friend, Tasneem Khalil, is a torture victim.

On May 10th of last year I received an urgent email from a friend. It was 4:04pm and I was at my mundane day job. Soon many other emails arrived with the same news. Tasneem Khalil, a Bangladeshi journalist and researcher for Human Rights Watch, had been picked just hours earlier by the Bangladesh military. Just before 1am on the morning of May 11 (Bangladesh time) members of Bangladesh military’s intelligence services, the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), had taken away Tasneem from his home in Dhaka. Tasneem’s wife, left alone with their 6-month old baby boy, managed to get word out of his abduction.

Via email and SMS Bangladeshi bloggers from all over the world came together within minutes of hearing the news. Soon blog posts were going up everywhere. American and British bloggers joined in and the news spread quickly. Soon Human Rights Watch put out a press release demanding his release, and CNN and the Associated Press put the news out over the wire. After sustained pressure from human rights organizations, foreign diplomats, and the press Tasneem was released 22 hours later. He was alive, but he had been tortured.

After his release, Sweden offered Tasneem, his wife Suchi and his baby boy Tiyash, political asylum. Today they have begun a new life in Sweden, in exile.

On February 14th Human Rights Watch released a 44-page report  (PDF) entitled "The Torture of Tasneem Khalil: How the Bangladesh Military Abuses Its Power Under the State of Emergency". The report, in first person testimony, details how the DGFI brutally beat and threatened Tasneem during his 22 hour ordeal.

Tasneem was taken to one of the DGFI’s torture chambers known as a "black hole". The HRW report explains:

In Dhaka alone, the DGFI maintains at least three unofficial detention centers, known as "black holes." "Black Hole 1" is located in DGFI headquarters inside Dhaka cantonment near BNS Haji Moshin naval base. "Black Hole 2" is near Kachukhet, a civilian residential area inside Dhaka cantonment. "Black Hole 3" is maintained in the Uttara residential district near Zia International Airport.

 Of his ordeal Tasneem writes in the HRW report:

The Forum article made my interrogators furious. They started beating me again mercilessly, from all possible directions with hands and batons and kicks. I pleaded with them to give me one last chance. I said I would not do those things again. But one person said I had already "made the blunder." I think this was a reference to my lunch with the diplomats.

I started begging for mercy. The beating continued for some time. Then another person said, "We will think about giving you a chance, but you have to do as we say." He said I had to write a confession to the AIG [Additional Inspector General] of police, saying what they wanted me to say. Then I had to beg for his mercy.

There were two CCTV cameras in the corners attached to the ceiling. There was a fan. I was sitting in front of a table and three batons were on the table along with some stationery. One was a wooden baton, about a meter long. The other two were covered with black plastic. Poking out of the end of these were metal wires which appeared to fill the plastic covers. The plastic and wire batons were a little shorter than the wooden one. I assume these were the batons they tortured me with. When one guy saw that I was looking at them, he put them aside. I’m not sure if they used electricity on me. The pain often came like shocks, but they were hitting me so hard that I’m not sure whether it was just the force that hurt like this or if it was electricity.

They tortured Tasneem because he had dared to write an article critical of the Bangladesh military and he had just recently given an interview to the Washington Post. It was not a ticking bomb scenario. It was pure thuggery, as all torture is.

Tasneem’s torturers barked that he was "anti-state" because his journalism hurt the military’s "image":

And then the second voice said, "Baanchot [an abusive word], you have only reported on negative things. And you have fucked Bangladesh by your bloody anti-state reports. Whatever you have reported for CNN in all these years is all negative news. You shit on the same plate you eat, you are a traitor. You work for a foreign agency, and damage Bangladesh’s image outside."

Someone started punching the side and back of my head. I started crying out in pain. Then someone cried out an order, "Bring in salt and nails!"

Tasneem’s torturer was the military government of Bangladesh. It was the state torturing its own citizen. The most fundamental responsibility of a government is the protection of its own people. When a government not only fails to protect its own citizens but instead actively terrorizes and tortures them it has lost all legitimacy, moral or legal, to govern. It has become anti-state.

Yet there are defenders of Bangladesh’s military government. The defenders include elements of civil society within Bangladesh who see the military as their meal ticket to power and foreign governments such as the Bush administration and the British government who believe only the iron hand of the military can control 150 million people who are perceived to be unfit to govern themselves. To these defenders the minor inconveniences of torture, death in custody, extra-judicial killings, suspension of fundamental rights, and the occasional mass beating are the cost of doing business. Certainly to these defenders the torture of one man, Tasneem Khalil, does not matter.

To me it matters. It matters that my friend was tortured. It matters that, save for the overwhelming response to his detention, he would today be a statistic – a dead body as a result of the uniquely Bangladeshi opera known as "crossfire". It matters that the 150 million citizens of Bangladesh, who earned their freedom through blood and sacrifice, are today ruled by the gun.

So, this is my response to the email you sent me last week Tasneem. I was told over the weekend, in a harshly worded diatribe from a man with little regard for this "Virginia-based blogger", that we bloggers are cowards. That we don’t understand real life. That we hide behind our keyboards. That we are irrelevant.


But I would not trade a thousand words that I write that fall on deaf ears for the one email that you sent me. I am glad you are here my friend. It is, in the sum total of my life, one of the facts I am most proud of.


This entry was posted in Bangladesh, Human Rights, Personal, Torture. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Only Connect

  1. Thank you Mash for another excellent blog.

    I liked your point on government losing its legitimacy to govern. But again, this government never had any (ie, legitimacy) to begin with, no matter how hard some of our Constitution-gurus tried to convince us otherwise. [continued]

  2. MMR Jalal says:

    When a government not only fails to protect its own citizens but instead actively terrorizes and tortures them it has lost all legitimacy, moral or legal, to govern. It has become anti-state.

    It has become anti-state.
    Thanks for your responce to your friend.

  3. Robbie says:

    Mash, I’m sorry to hear your friend was tortured. I really don’t know what else to say except I’m probably feeling the same responses you did when you first read Tasneem’s message.

  4. khanna says:

    mash bhy

    regards.hope u r fine. for last few days i was just thinking that why u r not coming up with some issues related to us. at last came up.
    so tasnim khalil is u r friend and claiming himself is a journalist.
    r u sure that he is a journalist? i came to know about him in newspaper that he is to work for daily star and also for human rights watch.
    and he abused his writing power by making all wrong story regarding our government. and u r feeling bad for him.

    mash bhy
    so called human rights watch was the creation of western world and they rent few of our so called journalist with money and then try to undermine our country imaje.but they r never dear to tell human rights violation done by USA in iraq.
    i dont know whether at all he was tourchered by any organaigation or not. but if at all i am happy. not only that i want to drop this type of literate culprits to RAB to beat him more.
    please dont support those who do anti state activities and undermine our nation as a whole.

  5. Between the devil and the Deep Sea says:


    Your write up indicates that you are a Barbarian and not fit for the civilized society.

    The dirty creature like you are the curse of society.

    You may hide behind Rab. But while the people of the country become mad, you and your God Father DGFI and CTG will not get a single place to hide. You guys will be beaten black and blue then.

  6. khanna says:

    Dear Between the devil and the Deep

    i am not boneless that i need god father for my protection like u.

    if a student become a dirty creature and so called jurnalists who sell country to outside has become member of civilised society then of course i need to stand against u all.

    i am happy with CTG cz the present situation is far better then earliear any times.i hate that type of democracy which prevent me from doing classess, i hate that type of journalism who run after money and sold by money.

    u want to member of civilised society like USA,UK and want destroy muslim country like IRAQ,IRAN. u like more of USA flavour then that of bangladeshi flevour.

    Please dont undermine my country by telling all rubbish.

  7. Mash says:

    Khanna, in your comment, you took the position that citizens of Bangladesh should be tortured. That is an odd and shameful position to take for someone who advocates for Bangladesh.

    And before you go accusing human rights organizations like HRW of not talking about US violations of human rights, you need to learn your facts. Spend some time reading what HRW has to say about US human rights violations here and specifically about US torture here. There is a lot there to read, so get some coffee and sit in a comfortable chair.

    If you have any doubts about my position on the US government’s policies in Iraq and on torture, feel free to click the links on my sidebar about Iraq and Torture.

    Finally, I am proud to call Tasneem my friend. You have spewed some vile and unsubstantiated slander about him in your comments. Yet you operate no factual information. You are wrong about Tasneem as you are demonstably wrong about HRW. On top of that you advocate torture – how utterly reprehensible. You should really examine if you are doing more damage to the image of Bangladesh by advocating torture, slandering people and making ill-informed statements than the fictional “anti-state” elements that you claim to be fighting against.

  8. khanna says:

    Mash bhy

    i dont advocate for torture to me or to any body.i wanted to say that if anybody in the name of army,journalist etc try to under mine our country should u not protest.

    now mash bhy less talk about army. i dont support them to rule our country but they repetedly saying that they will not.why we dont believe them for a while.on the other hand those elected government what they did for us..? i can bet any one can tell here that present time is better except high cost of unnecessarily we should not blame some one.

    of course i will go through..but mash bhy u must believe that even USA violates HR they will not be effected but on the other hand if at all nothing happen with only story, we as a nation can be effected by is my observation.why we should talk bad of country to the other people why not we solve our problem with our people?
    hope u understand me..

  9. Between the Devil and theDeep sea says:


    I have no wish to reply your moronic comment.
    But Yes you are bone less creature. Besides you are a immature student.

  10. Maf Koira Den says:

    Khanna, two questions.

    1. what does “undermine our country” really mean?

    2. what exactly is our “imaje” that needs to be protected?

    please explain. thanks.

  11. Ingrid says:

    “undermine our country”. Hey, that sounds like the same kind of tribalistic nonsense some Americans spew when you take a position they consider ‘anti-American’ or ‘unpatriotic’. What it really means is, I am right and anyone believing otherwise will be put down as xyz for fear others start disagreeing with me as well. haven’t we heard that argument over and over before?

    Anyhow Mash, I had heard about Tasneem’s plight through here before, I am very happy that he and his wife were offered asylum in Sweden. Thank you HRW for keeping up the good work and giving victims a voice and advocacy. And to you as always Mash, anyone who’s voice you are can count themselves lucky to be spoken of in clarity and eloquence. Torture is torture.

    But I would not trade a thousand words that I write that fall on deaf ears for the one email that you sent me. I am glad you are here my friend. It is, in the sum total of my life, one of the facts I am most proud of

    I’m sure it’s mutual. All the best Tasneem, I hope you can find a way to recover from this emotional trauma. (and your wife as well)

  12. abedin says:

    Md. Tawfiq’s extrajudicial arrest and torture by DGFI is another incident of serious human rights violations like the one of Journalist Tasneem Khalil in Bangladesh. Md. Tawfiq, a director of Bangladesh telegraph and Telephone Board, was called by DGFI on March 4th (Tuesday) around 10 PM to see them in their Dhaka cantonment headquarters. As a law abiding citizen, he went there and for the next 4 days, there was no information on him from the DGFI as I was informed by an authenticated source. Not even his wife or family was informed of his location or condition which is a blatant violation of Bangladesh Constitution. On the 7th March, he was produced before the chief metropolitan magistrate by Ramna police station. He was shown arrest under Article 54 (suspicious activity) and was said that he was arrested from his residence on the same day. That is to say that his illegal custody by DGFI for nearly four days where he was tortured severely was kept secret from the court. His wife, in a press release yesterday, mentioned that she saw signs of torture in the uncovered areas of his body when she saw him in the court and asked the President and the chief advisor of the caretaker government of Bangladesh to save the life of her husband ((Janakantha, Inqilab, March 8). A fabricated false report was published in some Bangladesh newspapers on the 8th March (Janakantha, Inqilab, March 8) alleging that Tawfiq was involved in illegal VOIP business in Bangladesh. The report is full of inconsistencies, doesn’t hold any truth, and the allegations falls apart even at the tiniest scrutiny. It appears that Md. Tawfiq is the victim of some vested interest group in BTTB and Caretaker Government who took the advantage of current lawless situation in Bangladesh to realize some big plan in the telecom sector of Bangladesh.
    The eye raising questions are:
    1. If he was arrested by Ramna police on Thursday and was produced before the court next day, when did the joint forces interrogated him to find all the information that was published against him?
    2. If the allegations published by the joint forces were true, why he wasn’t charged by any one of them?
    3. Why he was picked up by DGFI and tortured, apparently in the same way as Tasneem Khalil without any judicial procedure?
    4. Why the police shown him arrest four days after he was detained by DGFI on no apparent allegation against him (Article 54 is just suspicious activity and is bailable).
    4. Who is responsible for his illegal custody and torture by DGFI?
    It appears that Bangladesh has become a country of torture under the present caretaker government where no law and human right exists as mentioned in the chilling testimony of Human Right Watch Journalist Tasneem Khalil ( who was kidnapped and tortured by the DGFI people in the same way as Tawfiq. The people in power, mainly, the DGFI are working with impunity like the Gestapo to pick up anyone at their will, torture, and then fabricated anything against them without any judicial processes involved.
    Brad Adams, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, in his letter to Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed ( urged that Bangladesh has obligation under international law to stop torture and to make the protection of human rights as much of a priority as its fight against corruption. Adams emphasized that the caretaker government should discipline or prosecute, as appropriate, members of the security forces, including the DGFI, the army and paramilitary forces such as the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), police and other government officials, regardless of rank, who have been responsible for arbitrary arrests and torture or other mistreatment of persons in detention.
    I earnestly, request all concerned to put forward this news in you blog and save the life of Tawfiq and thousands of other innocent people who doesn’t have any one to stand for them.

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