Bangladesh journalists could face 14 years in prison for refuting rumor

New York, August 12, 2016 — Bangladeshi authorities should drop all criminal proceedings against three journalists from the news website banglamail24, release them immediately, and restore press credentials to nine of their colleagues, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The three journalists could face a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison if charged and convicted under a law governing online publication.

Police on Sunday night arrested banglamail24 Executive Editor Maksukul Alam, acting Editor Shahadat Ullah Khan, and reporter Pranta Palash after the website published a report refuting a rumor that the prime minister’s son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, had died in a plane crash, according to press reports. A government statement also said that nine banglamail24 journalists’ accreditation had been revoked, according to the news website

Police Lt. Col. Khandker Golam Sarwar told the news website BenarNews that the journalists could face charges under article 57 of Bangladesh’s 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act, which criminalizes publishing material online that is “fake and obscene” or creates a possibility of threatening “law and order.” CPJ has joined other organizations in criticizing the law as an obstacle to press freedom. A Dhaka court on August 9 agreed to a police request to hold the three for seven days. The journalists’ lawyer, Mubinul Islam, told this was because the Information and Communication Technology Act requires those charged under its provisions to stand trial before a special court.

“Jailing anyone for even a day under a law as broad, vaguely worded, and restrictive as Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act is an injustice,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said. “Arresting journalists for refuting a false rumor reaches the point of absurdity. Bangladesh should release Maksukul Alam, Shahadat Ullah Khan, and Pranta Palash without delay.”

Sarwar, the police officer, allowed that the banglamail24 story reported the rumor as false in his interview with BenarNews, the website reported.

“They criticized the rumor, but…they also became part of spreading rumors on the death of the Honorable Prime Minister’s son, who holds an important government post,” the news website quoted Sarwar as saying.

Separately, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission last week blocked access to 35 news websites for publishing “objectionable comments” about the government, Shahjahan Mahmood, who chairs the Commission, told BenarNews. Leaders of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and the Dhaka Union of Journalists protested the moves, according to press reports.