Bangladesh harasses staff, press affiliated with Amar Desh

New York, April 16, 2013–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the official harassment of a pro-opposition daily in Dhaka and calls on all parties to ensure a free and vibrant press is allowed to function amid ongoing political turmoil.

In recent weeks, Amar Desh, one of the largest dailies in Bangladesh, has openly criticized the Shahbagh movement, which calls for the death penalty of Islamist leaders on trial for war crimes, news reports said. The movement has also become a rallying call against growing Islamic fundamentalism in a country that is 90 percent Muslim. The Amar Desh stories come amid a time of heightened political and religious tension in the country.

“Authorities must ensure the functioning of a free press amid the politically charged climate in Bangladesh,” said CPJ Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “The government must ensure it is not targeting sections of the press due to their political affiliations.”

Police on Saturday night arrested 19 employees of Amar Desh who were attempting to print editions of the paper at the offices of Sangram, another pro-opposition daily that is affiliated with an Islamist party, reports said. News reports did not disclose the names of the staff members.

Authorities confiscated more than 6,000 copies of the paper that had been printed, and filed charges against Mohamed Abul Asad, editor of Sangram, in connection with printing and publishing a newspaper, the reports said.

Amar Desh‘s printing press had been sealed by police on Thursday following the arrest of Mahmudur Rahman, the paper’s owner and editor, according to Agence France-Presse. News accounts reported on Sunday that police also filed unspecified charges against Mahmuda Begum, Rahman’s mother and acting chairman of Amar Desh.

The daily was published on a limited scale on Friday and Saturday through the use of a different printing press, news reports said.

Dhaka district administrator Yusuf Harun told AFP that the employees did not have authorization to use another press to publish the newspaper. According to Bangladesh’s Printing Presses and Publications Act, any newspaper needs permission from a court to print outside its designated press within the first 72 hours, reports said.

It is unclear if Amar Desh had sought such permission, but the paper’s employees were arrested before the 72-hour period had elapsed. On Sunday, a Dhaka court denied them bail, reports said.

Bangladesh’s Minister of Information Hasanul Haq Inu issued a public statement on Tuesday saying that Amar Desh had not been banned and that it could continue to use other printing presses to publish upon receiving permission from the district administration of Dhaka, reports said.

  • For more data and analysis on Bangladesh, visit CPJ’s Attacks on the Press.