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Bangladesh 29 August 2002

Government closes leading Ekushey Television after court withdraws licence

The interior ministry opened an enquiry on 1 September into the validity of the work permit of Simon Dring, the British head of Ekushey TV. Some ministry officials appear to want legal action against him while others want him deported. Dring, formerly BBC correspondent in the region, covered Bangladesh’s independence war against Pakistan and is known for his reporting on the crimes of the Pakistani army and their Bangladeshi allies, some of whom are now members of the government.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has protested against the government’s closure of Bangladesh’s leading TV station, Ekushey Television (ETV), just one hour after the Supreme Court today upheld the withdrawal of its licence.

"The intransigence and haste of the authorities responsible for implementing this judicial decision seems to have been an act of revenge against an overly independent television channel", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Information Minister Tariqul Islam.

Ménard noted in his letter that just a few months ago, the report of a Reporters Without Borders investigation had hailed recent progress made by Bangladesh in radio and television plurality. "Today, ETV’s disappearance is a dramatic backward step for viewers in Bangladesh", he said. The letter urged the minister to find a way to let ETV continue broadcasting while it obtains a new licence under last year’s telecommunications law.

Technicians of the state-owned Bangladesh Television cut off ETV’s broadcasts within one hour of the Supreme Court’s decision today (29 August) to reject ETV’s appeal and confirm the cancellation of its licence. Hundreds of people, including performers and human rights activists, had gathered outside the court in a show of solidarity with ETV.

The Supreme Court’s decision upholds the 27 March decision of the Dhaka High Court cancelling the licence of ETV on the grounds that it had obtained it under "illegal conditions" from the previous government of the Awami League, now in opposition. This decision was issued in response to a suit filed by two university teachers and a journalist close to the ruling BNP.

ETV’s lawyers had appealed against the High Court’s decision before the Supreme Court, which had in turn rejected the appeal. As a result, ETV’s lawyers had appealed again to the Supreme Court to reconsider its own decision, and it was this appeal that was rejected today, leaving no further legal recourse available to ETV.

ETV had obtained its licence in 1998, becoming the country’s leading private news channel. It had drawn a large audience thanks to a variety of programming that broke with the state-owned television’s monotonous, pro-government style of broadcasting.

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