Journalists found guilty of contempt

New York, March 21, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns today’s High Court conviction of seven editors, publishers and reporters from the Bangla-language daily Prothom Alo and the Bangla-language daily Bhorer Kagoj for publishing disputed reports about a judge’s educational background.

Samaresh Baidya, senior reporter for Bhorer Kagoj, faces two months in jail and a fine of 2,000 taka (about $US30). The others were fined 1,000 taka (about $US15) apiece. They were: Bhorer Kagoj Publisher Saber Hossain Chowdhury and Editor Abed Khan; Prothom Alo Publisher Mahfuz Anam, Editor Matiur Rahman, and reporters Ekramul Haque Bulbul and Masud Milad.

The journalists plan to appeal their convictions on contempt of court charges to the country’s Supreme Court, local sources told CPJ. Baidya is free pending appeal.

The convictions stem from October 2004 articles in both national dailies alleging that Judge Faisal Mahmud Faizee’s falsified his law school graduation exam results. Faizee had recently been appointed an additional judge to the High Court but was removed from the bench in the wake of the scandal, according to The Daily Star. The judge’s father, Mohammed Faiz, filed criminal contempt of court charges days later. The papers have stood by the accuracy of their reports.

Bhorer Kagoj’s attorney argued that the contempt of court laws are ill-defined and that the publications exposed the wrongdoing of an individual, according to The Daily Star. But the court ruled that the newspapers’ reports threatened to harm the image of the court, and found that they were “distorted, baseless and false,” according to the United News of Bangladesh news service.

The editors of four publications—The Daily Star, Prothom Alo, Bhoror Kagoj and New Age—also face contempt of court charges for publishing reports last October about another judge added to the High Court who was detained for allegedly urinating in public, according to The Daily Star.

“We are outraged by this ruling against our colleagues,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Vaguely worded and outdated contempt laws are being abused to silence journalists in Bangladesh who are merely doing their jobs by exposing official wrongdoing.”