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Bangladesh shuts down pro-opposition newspaper

By Index on Censorship / 2 June, 2010

Police last night closed a popular newspaper, sealing its offices and arresting its editor on fraud charges — opposition fears move marks wider press clampdown. Parvez Kabir and Michael Harris report

The Bangladeshi government ordered the closure of the country’s third largest national daily newspaper Amar Desh at around midnight last night. In an interview conducted with the acting editor, Mahmudur Rahman, in the early hours of the morning before his arrest, he told Index on Censorship that police officers under government orders had stormed the newspaper’s headquarters in Kawaran Bazar, Dhaka. Many in the opposition Bangladeshi National Party (BNP) — which Amar Desh supports — believe the closure is part of a move by the Awami League government to crack down on press freedom to minimise opposition to government policy.

In April, Bangladesh’s only private television station, Channel One, was taken off air by the government due to “licensing issues” and yesterday, popular social networking site Facebook was also blocked in the name of “public order”. Many Bangladeshis fear a return to the censorship and silence enforced by previous governments. In 1975, Awami League leader, the late Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, banned and closed all but four state-owned national newspapers to shore up support for one-party rule. This latest clampdown comes in spite of the government’s official rhetoric of creating a Digital Bangladesh.

Background to the closure

In recent months, Mahmudur Rahman has written editorials and articles criticising the government, he has documented human rights abuses, extra-judicial killings and maladministration by officials linked to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Rahman told Index: “The government has made a fascist stance against freedom of expression.” He stressed, “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…in other words I have challenged Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister, on her integrity and challenged the establishment.”

According to unconfirmed reports, Amar Desh’s troubles began when its publisher, Hashmat Ali Hash, was detained by National Security Intelligence agents at an undisclosed location. Ali was freed after six hours, and announced his intention to sue Mahmudur Rahman on charges of fraud, impersonation and defamation. Ali signed papers stating he was no longer responsible for Amar Desh and stating “legal steps can be taken as his name is being printed as the publisher”, hence the fraud charges.

According to reports for Index from Bangladesh, the police were initially unable to arrest Mahmudur Rahman as almost 400 members of the newspapers staff acted as a human barricade. They pleaded to be arrested with him in an act of solidarity to highlight the government’s curbs on freedom of speech.

Rahman has asked those who work for freedom of expression around the world to publicise the situation in Bangladesh. He said: “Support us in the fight to freedom of speech, people should be free to struggle and show their dissent against oppressive measures, that is part of any civil plural democracy”.

We have been unable to contact Bangladesh’s High Commission for comment.

The Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and Dhaka Union of Journalists have called a protest rally at the National Press Club at 11:00am today (Thursday) in protest against the government’s action

Parvez Kabir is a UK-based activist on Bangladeshi issues; Michael Harris is Index on Censorship’s Public Affairs Manager

UPDATE: Mahmudar Rahman’s lawayers claim he has benn tortured in custody. Read here

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3 Responses to Bangladesh shuts down pro-opposition newspaper

  1. Md Ali Reply

    23 August at 23:40

    really great articles. please keep update. Thank you again.

  2. The People Reply

    28 April at 07:17

    Land Survey by settlement office of Bangladesh

    When Government has fixed up high rate of Taxes and fees for Registration of Land at the time of transfer of ownership,

    But unfortunately the Land Survey are conducted by Settlement Office of each District and Thana level and DLR Office , Dhaka jointly in different time . .

    Survey Official during completing their job adopts several stage operations for fixing up land ownership.
    .
    And in most cases the title ownership are changed recording new holding number , and ownerships , thus deprived the actual land owner of his title right ,

    These are done for personal interest or illegal gain ignoring the Title Right of actual owner ,

    Government have decided that the wrong made by Land Survey Official should be ratified by the Court of each District .

    The intention of Government is good , but actual facts are different , In whole life correction may not be possible

    The actual Title owner became undone and help less , can neither transfer his Land nor he can sell the land to meet emergency expenditure like education cost of children or matrimonial ceremony etc

    Will the Ministry of Law and Land Ministry of Bangladesh please take immediate steps to protect the interest of such Land Owner . or Declare that these land based o actual Title Deed may be transferred or sell .

    The People

  3. jewel Reply

    8 June at 20:16

    Mr. Mahamudur Rahman is not a theif. He is one of the key men who stablished bangladesh ceramic sector. He always fought for truth. He is couragious. Bangladeshi young generation can follow him. But govt arrested him in a silly reason. govt’s telling he’s linked with terrorist and leaflet have been pressed from amardesh office. Why our security agencies couldn’t explore if before. After arresting in a fraud case they filed the case. It’s vogus. I hate this kind of activities of the govt and in fear that R we going Baksal again. I’ve read the books of Ahmed Sofa the most intellectual writer of bangla writers about the present govt’s past history. I’ve read old Gonokantha copies and informed how they suppresed him.
    i wanna see in the morning May he come to me as free Mahmudur Rahman The second couragious and honest man in our country.
    And my appeal to Barrister Rafiqul Hoq by you Pls do something for him. U r the first couragious and honest man in our country pls save our soul

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