Sign up for PM Award Updates!

Bangladesh court suspends criminal lawsuits against editor

April 11, 2016

A Bangladesh court on Monday suspended 72 defamation and other criminal lawsuits filed by government supporters against a top newspaper editor, following criticism of a crackdown on the press.

Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam faced the multiple lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages over his newspaper’s reports published in 2007 alleging corruption against the woman who is now prime minister.

The High Court stayed the lawsuits and granted Anam bail after he filed a petition challenging their legality, said assistant attorney general Arobinda Roy.

“The High Court granted him bail in all the cases today and also stayed the proceedings until a rule (formal request) is disposed of,” Roy told AFP.

The court formally asked authorities for an explanation as to whether continuing the cases “should not be declared illegal”, he said.

Anam conceded in February that the 2007 stories had been based on uncorroborated leaks from the military-backed caretaker government at the time. It ruled Bangladesh until Sheikh Hasina become premier in 2009.

He admitted he had been wrong to publish them, sparking an outcry from government supporters and calls from Hasina’s son for Anam to be tried for treason.

Pro-government groups filed sedition cases and lawsuits seeking over $17 billion in damages for defamation, a criminal offence that in Bangladesh also carries a penalty of up to two years in jail.

The Star’s reports, based on information supplied by a military cell, were also carried by most other Bangladesh newspapers.

The cell was set up by the caretaker government that ruled Bangladesh for two years after a military takeover in 2007. The regime arrested Hasina and her main political rival Khaleda Zia, now leader of the opposition, on corruption charges.

Neither was convicted of any crime. The pair, who denied corruption, were later released.

Human Rights Watch and other groups have slammed the lawsuits, saying they “are part of a larger, organised assault on independent media”.

Criminal defamation cases are rarely brought before the courts in Bangladesh.

Fears over freedom of speech have been mounting in the nation, which has seen a spate of killings of secular bloggers and publishers.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.