Asia - Pacific

Bangladesh: Senior journalist falls victim to controversial law

Country badly needs responsible journalism, control over misuse of ‘provocative’ digital law, experts say

Md. Kamruzzaman   | 23.10.2020
Bangladesh: Senior journalist falls victim to controversial law

DHAKA, Bangladesh 

Bangladesh’s police have arrested a senior journalist on sedition charges under the country’s controversial digital law, raising concerns over the violation of freedom of press.

Ruhul Amin Gazi, the chief reporter at the Daily Sangram, one of the oldest newspapers in the country, was arrested from his office Wednesday night.

On Thursday evening, a court in the capital Dhaka sent him to jail.

According to official sources and his family members, despite being under bail from the High Court, Gazi has been “arbitrarily” arrested and produced before the court.

“We informed police about his [Gazi’s] permanent bail granted by the country’s top court, but police did not pay heed to our words and arrested him from the office,” Md. Shahidul Islam, a senior sub-editor of the daily, told Anadolu Agency.

Addressing the digital law as a “draconian law,” Islam called for the immediate release of Gazi, who is also the president of a faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ).

Harun Ur Rashid, the deputy commissioner of police in Dhaka’s Tejgaon division, however, told Anadolu Agency: “A court issued a warrant for him [Gazi] 10 days ago and he was noticed accordingly to appear before the court. But he did not respond to the court’s order.”

“Even during conversation with us Gazi, admitted his fault of not attending the court hearing,” Rashid said, adding that there was no misuse of any law.

- Controversial law

Amid massive opposition from journalists and rights activists, Bangladesh passed the Digital Security Act (DSA) in early October 2018 with concerns that it might go against the constitutional rights of free-thinking and freedom of expression.

Under this law, "negative propaganda" is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

According to a report by Amnesty International released in March, more than 1,000 cases were filed in Bangladesh under this act in the first three months of 2020.

In a report released in April, the Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh, a network of media rights defender, said two dozen journalists were attacked, harassed, or arrested under the DSA just in a month since Bangladesh imposed nationwide coronavirus lockdown on March 26.

Of them, cases were filed against three editors -- including Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, editor of the daily Manab Zamin; Toufique Imrose Khalidi, editor-in-chief of the country’s first online news portal the; and Mohiuddin Sarker, acting editor of another online news portal

According to a report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in July, at least 22 journalists in Bangladesh faced cases and attacks in the first 70 days of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

On Dec. 13, 2019, the police had also detained Abul Asad, 73, one of the most senior and aged journalists in the country working for the Daily Sangram, as his newspaper described a Jamaat-e-Islami leader, who was executed in 2013, as a “martyr.”

He was later shown arrested under the DSA and is still in jail.

Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a photographer and editor of the biweekly magazine, disappeared on March 10, 2020 a day after three cases were filed against him under the DSA for alleged “derogatory” postings on Facebook.

Kajol, however, was found blindfolded near the border with India and was later sent to jail.

- Role of law enforcers, journalists

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Abul Mansur Ahmed, a journalism professor at the Department of Dhaka University, emphasized on the due role of both journalists and law enforcers.

“I think those journalists who perform their professional duties with sincerity, honesty and responsibility do not fear the Digital Security Act,” Ahmed said.

“Very often we see unfair competition among journalists in breaking news. Doing so, they very often fail to ensure proper verification and cross checking.”

Describing the duty of journalists as “very significant,” he added: “A false and fabricated news can demolish the long-achieved dignity and position of a person or institute.”

He also emphasized on proper moral and professional education and training for journalists.

Speaking of the law enforcers, he said: “Whenever anyone files any complaint against any journalist, police must verify it properly.”

Rezwan Siddiqui, former director general of the Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB, however, expressed concerns over the misuse of the DSA.

“In most cases, this law is being used to harass journalists. A police officer of any rank can arrest a journalist under this act.

“This controversial law must be evicted immediately so that journalists can perform their duties freely to ensure people’s constitutional right to know,” Siddiqui said.

To a question about fake news, he said that in case of violation of any law or defamatory news against anyone or any institution, a journalist can be charged under the existing criminal laws.

“Good governance and rule of law of a country largely depend on freedom of media,” Siddiqui said.

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