In Bangladesh, newspaper shut down, editor arrested

New York, June 2, 2010—The Bangladeshi government must fully explain the circumstances that led police to close the Bengali-language, pro-opposition daily Amar Desh based in the capital, Dhaka. Police cited supposed publishing irregularities when they arrested acting editor Mahmudur Rahman early today, news reports said, but the shutdown appears to be politically motivated. 

On Tuesday, the newspaper’s publisher, Hashmat Ali, filed a fraud complaint against Rahman, saying the daily was being wrongly published in his name, news reports said. Rahman told reporters that intelligence officials had forced Ali to file the charge as a pretext for closing the paper.

Dhaka Deputy Commissioner Muhibul Haque signed an order Tuesday night cancelling the newspaper’s publication rights on grounds it had no authorized publisher, according to local news reports. Police went to the paper’s production facility later that night and ordered it to stop printing, reports said. More than 200 police separately stormed the paper’s offices, according to the local English-language newspaper The Daily Star. Antigovernment protesters outside the building and journalists inside tried to bar them from entering, but Rahman was eventually arrested and led away at 4 a.m. today, the Star reported.

Rahman was granted bail in the fraud case, but was kept in custody on separate charges filed against him and colleagues at the newspaper for obstructing police, according to the local news Web site bdnews24.

“Using 200 police to shut down a newspaper in the middle of the night over alleged publication irregularities is excessive and suggests the government is trying to suppress a critical media outlet. There needs to be a full explanation of the motives behind such a drastic move,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Amar Desh should be allowed to resume publishing.”

Rahman served as energy advisor to former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia when her Bangladesh National Party (BNP) led a four-party alliance government from 2001 to 2006. Rahman, the major shareholder of Amar Desh and the paper’s acting editor since 2008, and his staff have been charged with more than 20 counts of defamation in all, in connection with articles about the ruling Awami League party, which came to power in December 2008, according to local news reports.

In the fraud case, Ali’s complaint alleged that Amar Desh continued to be published under his name for several months after he withdrew from the post in writing—leaving him liable in the multiple legal cases filed against the paper, according to The Daily Star. Rahman’s application to publish the paper in his own name was declined because of the pending defamation suits, the Star reported. Rahman told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that National Security Intelligence (NSI) officials had detained Ali for at least five hours and had forced him to file the charge. Local news reports citing unnamed family sources said Ali went missing on Tuesday morning. NSI officials and police denied that had detained Ali when contacted by local journalists.