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Bangladesh 24 May 2002

Editor of daily paper gets jail sentence for contempt of court

On 3 August, the supreme court delayed its decision on the appeal of the publisher and editor in chief of the newspaper Dainik Manabzamin, who were respectively sentenced to a fine and a one month prison sentence for contempt of court.

Reporters Without Borders protested today against a one-month jail sentence imposed on Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, chief editor of the daily paper Dainik Manabzamin, for contempt of court.

"Sentencing a journalist to jail on the outdated and repressive charge of contempt of court sets a dangerous precedent for press freedom in Bangladesh," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Bangladesh’s justice, law and parliamentary affairs minister, Moudud Ahmed.

"To avoid more sentences like this, we urge that the offence be abolished and the law amended to drop prison terms for media offences." Ménard noted that the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression has described sending someone to prison for expressing an opinion as being "out of proportion to the offence."

Chowdhury was found guilty of contempt by the High Court on 20 May and as well as the jail sentence was fined 2,000 takas (40 euros). His wife Mahbuba Chowdhury, the paper’s publisher, was fined 2,000 takas too. Former president Hussain Mohammad Ershad was jailed for six months, also for contempt of court. The three defendants have appealed against the verdicts, so the sentences have not yet been applied.

The court’s two judges said Chowdhury had committed the contempt by publishing a secret conversation between Ershad and Justice Mohammad Latifur Rahman, in which Ershad had tried to get a favourable verdict in a case involving himself. The court criticised the sensational media coverage of a scandal involving a senior judge (Latifur Rahman), who resigned after the conversation appeared in Dainik Manabzamin and three other papers.

It was the first time since the return of democracy in 1990 that a newspaper editor had received a prison sentence for a press offence. The editors of 15 of Bangladesh’s main daily newspapers put out a statement on 22 May supporting the independence of the press and the courts and declaring their solidarity with Chowdhury.

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