C4's Malik tells of nightmare jail ordeal

Malik: went on hunger strike

Zaiba Malik, one of the two Channel 4 reporters released from prison in Bangladesh, went on a hunger strike in a bid to get herself hospitalised so she could reveal to the outside world details of her incarceration.

Speaking exclusively to Press Gazette this week, Malik said she lived on a banana a day for one week while in police custody, because she was so "disgusted that we weren’t allowed contact with the outside world, that I intended to get hospitalised to get the word out".

Malik and her colleague Bruno Sorrentino were picked up on 25 November by the Bangladeshi police as they tried to cross the eastern border into India. They were then transferred overnight to the capital, Dhaka, where they were detained by the elite detective branch in separate police cells, beginning what she described as a "very surreal and very frightening experience".

"Once detained, we were never formally arrested. No charges were levelled against us – we were left completely in the dark. The one and only time we appeared in court, no charges were read out against us and we were not allowed access to lawyers or embassy officials.

"On the Tuesday, we were taken to court, where there was lots of press attention. Someone was there from the Italian Embassy for Bruno, but we weren’t allowed to talk to them. We were then thrown into custody and interrogated constantly, woken up in the early hours of the morning for questioning. We were allowed no fresh air or exercise.

"On the following Monday, we were taken to the magistrates’ court and put in a cell beneath the court. Our lawyers were running around trying to find where we were, on the understanding that we’d get a hearing. Then we were taken back to the van and ended up in Dhaka central prison."

There they were exposed to overcrowding, appalling hygiene and disease, but Malik said the experience was more manageable than the police detention, because a sympathetic prison superintendent allowed them access to lawyers and embassy staff.

The following Wednesday, the Bangladeshi foreign minister told her of her imminent release, "but we didn’t believe it until we were on the plane and flying out, because there had been hiccups before".

Malik has postponed returning to work until the new year so she and Channel 4 can concentrate on securing the release of journalist Saleem Samad and interpreter Priscilla Raj.

By Wal Azeez

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