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Bangladesh 22 March 2005

High court sentencing threatens press freedom

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern that a two-month jail term the high court imposed on a reporter for "contempt of court", over published allegations that a high court judge had fake qualifications, constitutes a serious threat to press freedom.

The high court on 12 March 2005 sentenced Samarash Boidya, correspondent for the daily Bhorer Kagoj in Chittagong, south-eastern Bangladesh to two months in prison and a fine equivalent to nearly 30 euros. Failure to pay would expose him to a further sentence of one month in jail.

Six other journalists, including the managing editor of Bhorer Kagoj and editorial directors of another Bengali-language daily, Prothom Alo, were sentenced to fines equivalent to more than 10 euros in the same case.

The court found that lawyers for the two dailies had not proved that documents published on 30 October 2004 accusing a judge, Faisal Mahmud Faizee, of presenting a fake law degree were authentic. Bhorer Kagoj headlined the story, "High court judge’s law graduation certificate was faked". Following the revelations, Faizee lost his job at the high court.

In its verdict, the court told the media to avoid all "sensationalism" when dealing with judicial matters and in particular the appointment of judges. The press was also ordered to no longer contact Supreme Court judges directly.

"Judges should be able to defend themselves like any other individual in cases of defamation, but they should not hide behind archaic laws that prevent the press from informing the public", the worldwide press freedom organisation said in a letter to Bangladesh Justice Minister, Moudud Ahmed.

The organisation called for urgent reform of all laws that allow for prison sentences in cases of press offices. "Bangladesh should come into line with UN recommendations in defamation cases. Prison sentences are not an appropriate response," it concluded.

Lawyers for Prothom Alo and Bhorer Kagoj announced that they would appeal to the Supreme Court. Boidya is at liberty while awaiting the outcome.

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