Bangladeshi journalist Tanvir Hasan Tanu is seen handcuffed to a bed in Thakurgaon Sadar Hospital while in police custody as part of an investigation into alleged violations of the Digital Security Act. (Photo: Dhaka Tribune)

Bangladesh authorities investigate 3 journalists under Digital Security Act

Washington, D.C., July 12, 2021 — Bangladesh authorities should immediately drop their investigations into journalists Tanvir Hasan Tanu, Rahim Shuvo, and Abdul Latif Litu, and scrap the country’s draconian Digital Security Act, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On July 10, police in the northeast district of Thakurgaon opened Digital Security Act investigations into the three journalists, according to news reports and a police report, which CPJ reviewed.

Authorities are investigating Tanu, the Thakurgaon district correspondent for the news websites Jago News and Daily Ittefaq and the privately owned broadcaster Independent Television; Shuvo, a correspondent for the news website; and Litu, a correspondent for the news websites Jugantor and Bangladesh Pratidin and the privately owned broadcaster News 24, according to those sources.

On the night of July 10, police arrested Tanu when he went to the local Sadar police station to inquire about the investigation; they then transferred him to the Sadar Hospital yesterday morning for treatment for respiratory issues, and released him on bail later that day, those reports said. Police handcuffed Tanu to a hospital bed while he received treatment, according to those reports. 

Shuvo told CPJ via messaging app that he and Litu have not been arrested as of today.

“Bangladesh authorities should drop their Digital Security Act investigations into journalists Tanvir Hasan Tanu, Rahim Shuvo, and Abdul Latif Litu immediately,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The Bangladesh government must repeal the act, cease harassing journalists, and allow them to do their jobs, which are a public service, not a crime.”

The investigations stem from a complaint filed by Nadirul Aziz Chapal, the superintendent of the Thakurgaon Sadar Hospital, who alleged that the journalists published reports about the hospital intended to defame and spread enmity and hatred, according to a copy of his complaint, which CPJ reviewed. CPJ called and texted Chapal for comment, but he did not reply.

The complaint referenced a July 5 article by Tanu in Jago News; a July 8 article by Shuvo in; and a July 7 article in Jugantor, published anonymously, which Chapal alleges Litu authored. All three articles detailed allegations that Thakurgaon Sadar Hospital provided sub-standard food to COVID-19 patients.

Police are investigating the three journalists under sections of the Digital Security Act pertaining to the publication of offensive, false, or threatening information; propaganda; defamatory information; information that creates enmity, hatred, or hostility among different classes or communities; and abetment of an offense, according to the police report.

Each of those counts can carry maximum prison sentences ranging from three years to five years and maximum fines ranging from 300,000 taka ($3,540) to 500,000 taka ($5,900).

CPJ called and texted Dalim Kumar, the Thakurgaon district police sub-inspector leading the investigations, but did not receive any reply.

CPJ has repeatedly documented how authorities abuse the Digital Security Act to harass journalists, and has called for its repeal.