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Bangladesh Government Arrests Three Journalists As Crackdown Continues

Inqilab’s Ahmed Atik placed on two day remand (Pic. Daily Star)

Bangladesh arrested three journalists of the Bangla-language daily newspaper ‘Inqilab’ on January 9 for publishing “fabricated and false news” heightening fears that the recent upsurge in media repression is continuing.

 Arrests were made under the Information and Communication Technology Act of ‘Inqilab’s news editor, Robiullah Robi, deputy chief correspondent, Rafiq Mohammad, and Ahmed Atik, the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent. Computers and printing equipment were also seized and the press sealed.
The Dhaka-based Daily Starsaid, that while Ahamed Atik was placed on a two-day remand, Robi and Mohammad were denied bail by the Metropolitan Magistrate S. M. Ashqur Rahman.
The offending story was an article on the newspaper’s front page alleging the Bangladesh government had obtained Indian help to quell violence in the country’s Satkhira District before general elections on January 5. The report struck a raw nerve as the Awami League party that stands accused of seeking Indian assistance went on to win the violence-ridden election that the opposition boycotted. Further, the Awami League is characterised as a ‘pro-Indian,’ a controversial issue in a country which has had fluctuating political relations with its mammoth South Asian neighbour.
“They published the sensational news that goes against the country’s sovereignty despite being aware that it was false and baseless,” Dhaka police spokesman Monirul Islam told AFP. “We have arrested three journalists involved with the report. We raided the office following due procedures, only after obtaining a search warrant issued by a court,” Islam said.
The Dhaka-based ‘The News‘ said, “The front-page story quoted reports from two separate news websites and social networking sites, and included reactions from government officials and independent analysts.”
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) quoted Bangladesh’s information minister, Hasanul Haq Inu, saying the report had intended to cause a riot, damage relations between India and Bangladesh and tarnish the image of the country.
All accounts point to the ‘Inqilab’ as a pro-opposition newspaper.
“The government has leveled very serious allegations against the journalists that should be independently investigated,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz.  “We call for the journalists to be released on bail and for the matter to be thoroughly adjudicated.”
The arrests are of particular concern because only last week onetime editor of the ‘Daily Blitz,’ Salah Uddin Shoaib Chowdhury was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for “intentionally writing distorting and damaging materials” in an article he wrote in 2003. He was however initially charged for blasphemy, sedition and treason.
“[C]houdhury was accused of damaging the country’s image in his articles critical of Islamism and of trying to attend a 2003 conference in Israel with the aim of talking about the emergence of radical Islam in Bangladesh,” commented the Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF).
On other incursions on media freedom ‘The News’ said, “Last May authorities raided and closed down a pro-opposition television channel after it aired footage of clashes between Islamists and security forces in central Dhaka. A month before the shutdown of the TV station, a popular pro-opposition newspaper, ‘Amar Desh,’ was closed down and its editor arrested for sedition and inciting religious tension.”
Meanwhile RSFhas been tracking four bloggers were arrested for posting material considered blasphemy (“derogatory contents about Islam and the Prophet Mohammed”). Three of them are on bail, while Asif Mohiuddin, who was injured in a murder attempt has been in and out of pre-trial detention.