Owner of news channel arrested in Bangladesh

New York, January 6, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrest of the owner of a Bangladeshi TV channel, which was unavailable in several parts of the country a day after airing a speech by an exiled opposition leader.

Police today entered the Dhaka offices of Ekushey TV, a privately owned channel that covers local and national news, and arrested Abdus Salam, the owner of the channel, according to local news reports. The officers drove Salam in his own car to a local police station, according to Ekushey staffers and Salam’s driver, who were cited in the reports.

At a press conference in Dhaka today, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu said police had charged Salam under the Pornography Control Act 2012, according to news reports. Police said a woman filed a complaint in November 2014 saying she had been vilified in a news program, according to reports. The police said the channel aired pornographic images of the woman. ETV denied the accusations, news reports said.

A Dhaka magistrate set Salam’s bail hearing for January 8, according to reports.

Some journalists said Salam’s arrest related to a speech the TV channel broadcast the day before. On January 5, Ekushey TV aired a speech by Tarique Rahman, son of opposition leader Khaleda Zia and the senior vice chairman of her party, from London in which he called for the toppling of the Sheikh Hasina-led government, reports said. Rahman, who has been in exile since 2008 and faces corruption charges in Bangladesh, is a fierce critic of Hasina’s father, founder of the country.

Zia, who has been confined to her office since earlier this week after she called on supporters to topple the Hasina-led government, said the government had stopped ETV’s broadcasts.

Ekushey TV was unavailable in some parts of the country following the airing of Rahman’s speech, according to local and international news reports. Cable operators said they were instructed to take ETV off the air, according to Agence France-Presse. Authorities denied issuing any order, reports said.

“We call on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release Ekushey TV’s owner, Abdus Salam, and restore access to the channel,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Bob Dietz. “These trumped-up charges are the latest attempt to silence opposition voices under the rule of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and do not bode well for Bangladesh’s democracy.”

At least three journalists were behind bars in Bangladesh when CPJ conducted its annual prison census on December 1. On December 2, a Dhaka court convicted British journalist David Bergman of contempt in connection with his critical reporting of a war crimes tribunal formed under the Hasina government.