New York, August 1, 2017–Bangladeshi authorities should drop all charges against Abdul Latif Morol and should release him without delay, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police in Dumaria, roughly 200 kilometers (124 miles) southwest of Dhaka, yesterday arrested the journalist on defamation charges after he wrote on Facebook that a goat had died.
Minister of State for Fisheries and Livestock Narayan Chandra Chanda on July 30 donated livestock to poor farmers, according to The Daily Star newspaper, the news website Prothom Alo, and Agence France-Presse. After local newspapers reported that one of the donated goats died, Morol wrote a Facebook post that roughly translated to “Goat given by state minister in the morning dies in the evening,” according to AFP.
Police arrested Morol, the Dumaria correspondent for the Daily Probaha, after Subroto Faujdar, the Dumaria correspondent for the Daily Spandan, filed a criminal complaint against him claiming that Morol had defamed Chanda in a “derogatory post” on Facebook, Dumaria police chief Sukumar Biswas told AFP. Faujdar told Prothom Alo that he filed the complaint against his colleague because he supported the minister.
“Jailing a journalist for reporting the death of a goat is beyond absurd,” CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler said from Washington, D.C. “Abdul Latif Morol should be released immediately, and the Bangladeshi government should urgently heed its pledges to reform the law that makes such abuses of the justice system possible.”
Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communications Act, which carries maximum penalties of 14 years in prison and fines of more than U.S. $100,000, criminalizes publishing material online deemed to be false; obscene; defamatory; likely to harm law and order; to tarnish the image of the state or an individual; to offend religious sentiments; or to provoke individuals or organizations, according to legal analyses. According to The Daily Star, at least 21 journalists have faced criminal complaints under its provisions in the last four months alone.
Bangladeshi Minister of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs Anisul Huq has repeatedly promised that the provision would be scrapped from planned new legislation intended to replace the law, and that journalists would not be pursued under the law in the meantime, according to press reports.
“I have said it before and saying it again, if any obstruction is created against freedom of speech or against journalists, the investigation officers or agencies will look into it,” Huq told journalists in Dhaka earlier this month, according to media reports.