New York, December 16, 2019 — Bangladeshi authorities should immediately release editor Abul Asad and must protect news outlets so they can report freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On December 13, police in Dhaka, the capital, arrested Asad, editor of the Bengali-language newspaper The Daily Sangram, after the paper published an article calling Abdul Quader Molla, an opposition figure executed in 2013 for war crimes, a “martyr,” according to a report by local news website BDNews24.
Asad was arrested as protesters ransacked The Daily Sangram’s offices over the article, destroying televisions, computers, and furniture, according to news reports.
On December 14, a Dhaka court ordered Asad to be held in police custody for three days while authorities investigate whether he violated the Digital Security Act, according to a report by Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
“Bangladeshis have every right to protest The Daily Sangram’s coverage, but Abul Asad should not have been arrested and the newspaper’s office should not have been vandalized,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “We call on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release Asad and ensure both his and The Daily Sangram staff’s safety.”
The paper published a story on December 12 marking the six-year anniversary of Quader Molla’s execution after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity during Bangladesh’s 1971 war for independence against Pakistan, and called him a “martyr” in the headline, according to BDNews24.
Quader Molla was a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party, and The Daily Sangram is widely viewed as sympathetic to the party, according to that report. The party has been banned from contesting elections since 2013, according to the Dhaka Tribune.
CPJ emailed the Bangladeshi Ministry of Information for comment, but did not immediately receive any response.
The Digital Security Act was passed in late 2018 and expanded the legal avenues for the Bangladeshi government to prosecute journalists, according to CPJ research.