9 June 2010

Hundreds of police shut down pro-opposition newspaper


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An opposition newspaper was forced to close in Bangladesh last week after the government cancelled its license to publish and sent 200 police to raid its printing press in the middle of the night, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), ARTICLE 19, the International Press Institute (IPI) and other IFEX members. The acting editor of the paper was arrested on fraud charges.

The Bengali-language daily "Amar Desh", based in the capital, Dhaka, is known for being close to the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and is often critical of the government. In recent months, editor Mahmudur Rahman wrote editorials and articles documenting extra-judicial killings and maladministration by officials connected to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, says Index on Censorship.

In an interview with Index on Censorship in the hours before his arrest, Rahman said: "We are the third largest national daily and have the second largest Internet readership... I have in my journalism exposed the government's record on corruption and human rights abuses extensively, in recent days we have seen a high number of custodial deaths."

At the time of the raid, anti-government protesters and journalists tried to prevent police from entering the building. Staff members blocked the entrance, saying the editor would be arrested "over their dead bodies," reports IPI. The police broke through "a human barricade of newspaper staff," to seize Rahman. Newspapers for 2 June were confiscated.

Rahman was granted bail on charges of fraud, but was kept in custody on separate charges filed against him and colleagues at the newspaper for obstructing police. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), several journalists were injured during the raid and five journalists were charged with violence.

Rahman was the energy advisor to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia when her Bangladesh National Party (BNP) led a four-party alliance government from 2001 to 2006. He is the major shareholder of "Amar Desh" and has been acting editor since 2008. Newspaper staff have been charged with more than 20 counts of criminal defamation linked to articles about the ruling Awami League party, which came to power in December 2008.

The state is cracking down on press freedom to curb criticism of its policies, says RSF. "The Awami League government is clearly unable to tolerate criticism from this opposition newspaper and, in particular, its coverage of the controversial award of energy contracts to foreign companies."

In April, the Bangladeshi government banned the country's only private television station, the pro-opposition Channel One. On 1 June Facebook was blocked. RSF reports that it was restored on 5 June following the social-networking website's agreement to withdraw cartoons of Mohammed as well as cartoons of certain Bangladeshi politicians that were considered offensive. Mahbub Alam Rodin, a young man who had allegedly posted the satirical images, was arrested for insulting the country's leaders.

Bangladesh

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