Washington, D.C., October 12, 2021 — The All European Awami League should immediately withdraw its complaint to the Swedish police against Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil, and Bangladesh authorities must cease harassing Khalil and his family, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On October 7, members of the All European Awami League, a Europe-focused branch of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party, filed a complaint with the Globen police department in Sweden’s Stockholm county against Khalil, editor-in-chief of the Sweden-based news website Netra News, claiming that the journalist had engaged in “a consistent effort to peddle a wave of disinformation and slanders against the government of Bangladesh” through Netra News, according to news reports and Khalil, who spoke with CPJ in a phone interview.
The complaint also alleges that Khalil, who lives in Sweden, has been “spreading smears and rumors to confuse the public and often casting as persons against the Prime Minister and her family members,” according to those reports.
Khalil told CPJ that the police have not contacted him, and he has not seen the complaint himself; CPJ was unable to review a copy of the complaint. The Swedish police can decide whether to pursue an investigation into the complaint, Khalil said.
“Bangladesh authorities and political leaders need to accept critical coverage by journalists like Tasneem Khalil, and stop trying to muzzle their voices through ceaseless harassment,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The All European Awami League should withdraw its complaint against Khalil, and Bangladesh authorities must stop harassing Khalil and his family, and allow journalists to do their work without interference.”
Netra News has recently published a number of columns criticizing the Bangladesh government, the Awami League, and the crackdown on press freedom in the country.
CPJ emailed the All European Awami League and the office of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who also serves as president of the Awami League, for comment, but did not receive any replies.
When CPJ called the Swedish national police, an officer declined to comment and requested that CPJ submit questions via email. When CPJ emailed the national police for comment, an officer referred questions to the Stockholm county police. CPJ emailed that office for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.
Separately, authorities in Bangladesh have repeatedly harassed Khalil’s mother, the journalist said.
On April 9, 2020, members of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, the intelligence section of the Bangladesh armed forces, visited the home of Khalil’s mother, Nazneen Khalil, questioned her about her private life, and asked her to speak to Khalil regarding his journalistic work which they alleged “tarnishes the image of the country,” according to news reports and a Facebook post by Khalil at the time.
On October 27, 2020, members of the Special Branch of the police in the northeastern Bangladesh city of Sylhet, where Nazneen Khalil lives, questioned her about the whereabouts of Khalil and his siblings, who are not journalists, according to Khalil and his Facebook post at the time.
CPJ called and emailed the office of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, but received error messages. Mofiz Uddin Ahmed, deputy inspector general of the Sylhet police, did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
On September 12, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal accepted Digital Security Act charges against Khalil on the basis of a police report that alleged that he made derogatory comments about government officials on his Facebook page and “instigated” Kabir Kishore, a Bangladeshi cartoonist, to “make anti-state rumors go viral on social media,” as CPJ documented at the time.
On October 6, police in Dhaka arrested Nusrat Shahrin Raka, the sister of exiled journalist Kanak Sarwar in apparent retaliation for his critical coverage of the Bangladesh government and ruling Awami League, as CPJ documented. Yesterday, the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court in Dhaka denied Raka’s bail application, according to Sarwar, who spoke to CPJ via phone.