A policeman questions a motorist at a checkpoint in Dhaka, Bangladesh, as pictured on July 1, 2021. Police in the northern district of Bogura arrested a journalist under the Digital Security Act. (AFP/Munir Uz zaman)

Bangladesh authorities detain journalist Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman under Digital Security Act

On July 18, police in the northern district of Bogura arrested Mohammad Akhtaruzzaman, a district correspondent who covers business news for the Dhaka-based Bangla daily newspaper Banijjo Pratidin, and opened an investigation into the journalist under the Digital Security Act, according to news reports.

Authorities allege that Akhtaruzzaman published two Facebook posts under a pseudonym accusing Samir Hossain Mishu, the health and family planning officer at the Sadar Upazila Family Planning Office, and Shamina Akter, the office’s head assistant and accountant, of corruption and failure to pay honoraria due to health volunteers, according to those reports. Mishu and Akter did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment via messaging app.

CPJ reviewed the police report and the Facebook posts, which were posted on July 17 from an account under the name of Aftab Ahmed. The first one appeared on Ahmed’s profile, and the second one on a page where healthcare volunteers shared information. Akhtaruzzaman was a volunteer healthcare worker, according to the national daily newspaper The Daily Star.

The arrest and investigation stem from a complaint filed by Akter, which alleged that the posts included false and misleading information intended to malign Akter and Mishu’s reputations, according to a copy of Akter’s complaint, which CPJ reviewed.

Emran Mahmud Tuhin, inspector of the detective branch of police in Bogura, told The Daily Star that the police identified Akhtaruzzaman as the operator of the Facebook account through “information technology” and by confiscating his laptop and phone.

Police are investigating Akhtaruzzaman under sections of the Digital Security Act pertaining to illegal access to a digital device, digital or electronic fraud, transmission of offensive, false, or threatening information, publication of defamatory information, and breaching the secrecy of the government, according to the police report; he has not yet been charged.

Each of those charges can carry a prison sentence of up to 14 years, and a fine of up to 2,500,000 taka (US$29,497), per the Digital Security Act.

CPJ emailed Banijjo Pratidin for comment but received a reply email that the publication’s inbox was full. CPJ called and texted Khairul Basar Niluj, Akhtaruzzaman’s lawyer, but did not receive any response.

CPJ contacted Mohammad Selim Reza, officer-in-charge of Bogura Sadar police station, via messaging app, but did not receive any reply.