DHAKA, BANGLADESH — Two elderly Bangladeshi newspaper editors were sentenced in absentia Thursday over a plot to kill the prime minister’s son, charges their supporters say were confected to punish them for supporting the country’s opposition.
Shafik Rehman, 88, and Mahmudur Rahman, 70, were convicted along with three others in what authorities said was a thwarted conspiracy to kidnap and murder Sheikh Hasina’s eldest child while he was based in the United States a decade ago.
All five were sentenced to seven years in jail, prosecutor Abdur Rahman Khan Kazal told AFP.
Rehman edited two of the country’s most popular Bengali weeklies and later became an adviser to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) before his arrest in 2016.
Rahman was known as a prominent critic of Hasina’s ruling Awami League, which has targeted BNP members with periodic crackdowns and mass arrests over the past decade, and was arrested in 2013.
Both men were later granted bail to seek medical treatment abroad and have not returned. Friends and supporters of the pair maintain their innocence.
The other three defendants have been fugitives since the conspiracy charges were filed and were also sentenced in absentia.
Sajeeb Wazed, 52, the prime minister’s son, now serves in a senior advisory position to his mother’s government.
Rights groups and foreign governments including the United States have long raised concerns over efforts by Hasina’s government to silence criticism and stamp out political dissent.
The 2022 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders ranked Bangladesh at 162, below Russia and Afghanistan.
Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act, under which hundreds of people have been arrested since 2018, has caused particular alarm.
Dainik Dinkal, the country’s only remaining newspaper aligned with the BNP, was shut down in February.