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Bangladesh editor arrested for defaming ex-schools chief

September 2, 2016

An award-winning Bangladeshi journalist who edits a specialist education website has been arrested for allegedly defaming a powerful former official, police said on Friday.

Police detained Siddiqur Rahman Khan for publishing what it described as multiple “fictitious, false and shameful” news on the portal, Dhaka police spokesman Masudur Rahman told AFP.

Khan is the latest in a string of journalists to have been detained by Bangladeshi authorities under the provisions of a controversial law which critics say gives the government a free rein to crack down on dissent.

“Officers from the cyber crime unit arrested Khan on Thursday after Professor Fahima Khatun filed the case under section 57 of the information communication technology act,” said Rahman.

Local newspapers said Khatun, a former head of a government department that regulates tens of thousands of schools and intermediate colleges, is married to a ruling party lawmaker and is a sister of a cabinet minister.

She said in her complaint that an article on the website had “defamed and tarnished” her image and that of the state.

The wording of the controversial law, which has been criticised by a UN expert on human rights, authorises judges to jail anyone who deliberately publishes material deemed to hurt religious beliefs, offend the state or damage law and order for up to 14 years.

Several high-profile pro-opposition journalists and social media users, who allegedly defamed Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her family members, have also been arrested in the past under the provisions of the law.

The arrests came amid widening fears for freedom of speech in the Muslim-majority nation, which has seen a spate of Islamist extremist killings in recent months.

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