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Bangladesh 29 July 2002

Government threatens to prosecute paper for sedition

Reporters Without Borders and the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) expressed their great concern today at the Bangladeshi government’s threat of a sedition trial in its bid to force the independent daily newspaper Dainik Janakantha to reveal its sources for an article about corruption in police appointments. "The government has every right to demand a right of reply to an article, but we remind you that the principle of protecting a journalist’s sources, which is under threat in many countries, is one of the fundamentals of press freedom," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard and BCDJC president Nayyemul Islam Khan in a letter to interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury. They urged the minister to stop such harassment and to respect the right of journalists not to reveal their sources.

After the article appeared on 8 July, the interior ministry sent a threatening letter to the paper, accusing it of trying to demoralise the police and giving it two days to supply the names of the sources for the story. Four days after the ultimatum expired, the ministry repeated its demand in another letter. A third letter, on 21 July, threatened the paper with prosecution under articles 131 and 132 of the Criminal Code which provide for very heavy punishment for sedition. The letter also accused the paper of having tried again to demoralise the police by printing another article, this time about the purge of 36 police officers because they were veterans of the 1971 war of independence. The paper’s reaction to the government campaign is that articles about corruption could help the government punish those responsible.

On January, Reporters Without Borders had already denounced the harassment against the paper. On january 16, 2002, the company supplying Dhaka with electricity (DESA) had cut off power to Dainik Janakantha’s printing facility in Dhaka. According to one DESA employee, the order to cut the power "came from the top. On January 14, Kabir Uddin Hannu, an elected official from a village in southern Bangladesh affiliated with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party, together with his henchmen, had violently struck Shawkat Milton, a Dainik Janakantha staff correspondent in Barisal. Several days earlier, Reazzudin Jami, a Dainik Janakantha correspondent in Brahmanbaria (in eastern Bangladesh), had been assaulted by armed activist members of the BNP’s youth movement. The government had already stopped buying advertising space in the Dainik Janakantha on November 22, 2001. This decision followed the publication of articles on the harsh abuse allegedly perpetrated by members of the ruling party against Hindu minorities and Awami League militants. In an editorial published on the daily’s front page, the editorial staff affirmed that this decision came from the highest level of government, and not from the Film and Publications Department, which "simply carries out orders."

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