Newspaper raid and journalist arrest an extreme over-reaction by state in Bangladesh21 Jan, 2014
The International Federation of Journalist (IFJ) today called on the Bangladesh government to release the journalists arrested in a raid on the Daily Inqilab newspaper offices in Dhaka last week and to allow for an independent review of the case against them to be heard.
The IFJ is deeply concerned about an emerging pattern of extreme and heavy-handed actions bythe state in Bangladesh, using laws to effectively silence the media.
Bangladesh police stormed and closed one of the nation’s oldest newspapers on January 16 and accused it of falsifying a report alleging Indian forces took part in a Bangladeshi crackdown on antigovernment protesters.RobiullahRobi, the paper’s news editor; Rafiq Mohammad, the paper’s deputy chief correspondent; and Ahmed Atik, diplomatic correspondent; were arrested under the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT). Last year, the government used the controversial act to close another newspaper and two television stations.
“This is an extraordinary over-reaction by the state, using its police and the judicial system to prevent publication, arrest individuals and encroach on reporting activities in a frightening misuse of power to muzzle the media,” the IFJ said.
Daily Inqilab, which is known for publishing reports critical of the ruling Awami League, had reported in a front-page story that the foreign ministry with the permission of the Prime Minister’s Office had asked for assistance from the Indian armed forces in quelling violence in Bangladesh’s Satkhira district ahead of the January 5 elections.
The Dhaka police said that the paper’s news report had damaged the image of the country and law enforcement agencies. Other government officials described the report as anti-government propaganda intended to incite riots and damage inter-country relations.
The IFJ said the Government’s response raised serious concerns internationally on the ability of the country’s media to report critically on its performance while previous cases left little hope for a fair trial for the three journalists.
On January 10, a Dhaka court sentenced Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the tabloid Weekly Blitz, to seven years in prison on charges of harming the country’s interests for “intentionally writing distorting and damaging materials”. Mahmudur Rahman, a pro-opposition editor for the Bengali-language daily Amar Desh, was arrested in April on charges of publishing false and derogatory information that incited religious tension, sedition, and unlawful publication.
“If a story is inaccurate, then the government should say so and use legitimate means to seek a correction,” the IFJ said. “News outlets survive on their ability to present reliable information and gain the trust of their readers. But through an aggressive assault on press freedom and the intimidation of the media, the government has made itself look overly sensitive, raising questions and triggering enormous concerns for all media about their ability to scrutinise the government and hold the powerful to account.”