Journalist arrested in Bangladesh under country’s ICT Act

New York, August 17, 2015–Bangladeshi authorities should immediately release Probir Sikdar, an editor who was arrested on Sunday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Detectives arrested Probir Sikdar, editor of the online news portal Uttoradhikar 71 News, at his Dhaka office, according to news reports. In court today, a judge ordered the journalist to remain in custody pending a hearing on Tuesday, the reports said.

Sikdar was arrested following a complaint that alleged he had “tarnished the image” of a cabinet member belonging to the ruling Awami League party, according to news reports. In a Facebook post earlier this month, Sikdar said he had been threatened and that three individuals, including Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, Minister of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, as well as a convicted war criminal and a businessman, should be held responsible if something happened to him, according to police cited in the independent newspaper The Daily Star. The nature of the threats is unclear.

Hossain’s office did not immediately respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. When asked about Sikdar’s arrest, Hossain told journalists from bdnews24, “Tell me who on earth will not seek legal action if such an accusation is made. I have to protect myself, defend myself.”

“Jailing journalists for publishing threats made against them further undermines confidence in Bangladesh’s legal system,” said CPJ Asia Program Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “We call on authorities to immediately release journalist Probir Sikdar and investigate the threats against him.”

The threats followed stories Sikdar published last month about the war criminal and the businessman, according to The Dhaka Tribune. The journalist posted the story to his Facebook page. The journalist said that when he went to a local police station to document the threats, the police refused to log one, according to news reports.

The official complaint against Sikdar was filed under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which regulates Internet use in the country. Section 57, which has often been used against journalists, criminalizes any information published on websites that “encourages dishonesty, offends anyone, or tarnishes the image of the state or any person,” according to news accounts.

Sikdar has worked as an investigative journalist for several Bangla-language dailies over the years, according to news accounts. In 2001, he was physically attacked after he reported on events surrounding the anniversary of the 1971 war of independence.

Following a February visit to the country, CPJ noted journalists have been under heightened pressure from authorities when reporting critically on authorities. The harassment of journalists comes as bloggers in the country face death threats from Islamist groups. In the past six months, four bloggers were hacked to death, most recently blogger Niloy Neel who was murdered at his apartment on August 7. Neel’s wife said that a few months prior to his murder, police refused to accept a complaint the blogger filed about being followed by strange men. Police said they were unaware of such a request.

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