Bangladeshi editor jailed for seven years for critical writing

New York, January 10, 2014–A Dhaka court on Thursday sentenced an editor to seven years in prison in connection with his articles about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh that allegedly showed the country in a critical light.

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the Bangladeshi tabloid Weekly Blitz, was convicted of harming the country’s interests under section 505(A) of the penal code for intentionally writing distorting and damaging materials, reports said. Choudhury had written articles about anti-Israeli attitudes in Muslim countries and the spread of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh.

The prosecutor in the case, Shah Alam Talukder, told Agence France-Presse that Choudhury was taken to prison after the verdict. The editor’s family said they would appeal the decision in the High Court, news reports said.

Choudhury was initially arrested in November 2003 after he tried to travel to Israel to participate in a conference with the Hebrew Writers Association. Bangladesh has no diplomatic relations with Israel, and it is illegal for Bangladeshi citizens to travel there. Choudhury was released on bail in 2005.

The editor was first charged with passport violations, but the charges were dropped in February 2004 and he was accused of sedition, among other charges, in connection with his articles, according to news reports. The editor was not convicted on the sedition charge, the reports said. In Bangladesh, judicial proceedings can take years to resolve.

The sentence comes amid a turbulent year for journalists in Bangladesh and the country as a whole. In 2013, several journalists were arrested in connection with their critical coverage. Last week, the country’s ruling Awami League declared a landslide victory in elections despite a boycott from opposition groups.

“We condemn the court’s decision to sentence Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury to seven years in prison for his writing,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “Recent events have not been encouraging for Bangladesh’s burgeoning democracy, and the jailing of another journalist gives further reason for concern.”

At least one journalist was being held behind bars in Bangladesh when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1. Mahmudur Rahman, a pro-opposition editor for the Bengali-language daily Amar Desh, was arrested in April on charges of publishing false and derogatory information that incited religious tension, sedition, and unlawful publication. The trial is ongoing.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Bangladesh page.