New York, December 19, 2012–CPJ is deeply concerned by sedition charges leveled against Mahmudur Rahman, the acting editor and majority owner of the Bengali-language pro-opposition daily Amar Desh and the paper’s publisher, Alhaj Hasmat Ali. The two were charged after publishing news stories based on leaked transcripts of conversations between a lawyer and the lead judge of Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunal.
The prosecutor of the tribunal, Saidur Rahman, filed a complaint against Rahman last week after Amar Desh, the second largest daily in the country, reported on Skype conversations between Judge Mohammed Nizamul Huq and a human rights activist and lawyer based in Brussels. According to news reports, the judge shared details of the case and asked for advice, which some observers say cast doubt on the impartiality of the tribunal. Huq, who initially disputed the authenticity of the leaked conversations, stepped down from the tribunal last week.
The tribunal on December 13 ordered all media to stop reporting on the leaked conversations and resulting fallout, according to local media reports.
“The credibility of the court is dependent on open and unrestricted coverage of its activities,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities only undermine the court’s mission by leveling these very serious charges of sedition against journalists who have raised critical questions about the proceedings.”
Rahman has confined himself to his office in the capital, Dhaka, for the past eight days. “If the government wants to arrest me, they will have to do so from my desk,” Rahman told CPJ. Ali, the publisher of the daily who also faces charges, remains at his home, according to Rahman.
The tribunal aims to investigate war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and crimes against peace committed during the 1971 war of independence in which Bangladesh seceded from Pakistan. Several hundred thousand civilians were killed, and thousands of women raped. As part of a peace treaty, Pakistanis were granted immunity from prosecution in Bangladesh, but Bangladeshis were not. Critics say the tribunal is being used to target political opponents of the ruling Awami League.
Rahman–who served as an energy adviser in the previous Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government –was arrested in June 2010, and spent 10 months in prison on charges of harming the court’s reputation, including defamation for publishing reports on alleged corruption by the son of current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He says he was beaten while held.