Bangladeshi authorities opened an investigation into journalists Nazmus Sakib (left) and Md Emdadul Haque (right) in July 2023. (Photos: Sakib/Haque)

Two Bangladeshi journalists investigated under Digital Security Act

On July 29, 2023, the Savar Model Police Station in Bangladesh’s central Dhaka district opened an investigation into Nazmus Sakib, editor of the Dainik Fulki newspaper and president of the Savar Press Club, and Md Emdadul Haque, a reporter for the Amader Notun Somoy newspaper, after registering a July 28 complaint against them under four sections of the Digital Security Act, according to The Daily Star and the two journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone.

The complaint, which CPJ reviewed, was filed by Md Shahinur Islam, who identified himself to The Daily Star as a reporter for the newspaper Amar Somoy, which supports the ruling Awami League party. It accused the journalists and other unnamed members of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party and Bangladesh Nationalist Party of working together to commit “anti-state crimes” and disseminate “conspiratorial news” in a July 27, 2023, Dainik Fulki article.

That article, titled “Asia’s longest-serving prime minister is finally resigning,” covered the resignation announcement of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen but mistakenly used a photo of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, president of the Awami League. The next day, the newspaper published a correction and apology, which CPJ reviewed.

Haque left Dainik Fulki around 2019 and was not involved in the article, the journalist told CPJ.

Sakib said he believed he was being targeted to undermine his campaign in the election for Savar Press Club president, which is set to be held in the coming months. He is opposed by about five journalists who strongly support the Awami League, he said.

Similarly, Haque said he believed he was being targeted for his campaign to be the press club’s organizing secretary. He is opposed by two journalists who strongly support the ruling party, he told CPJ.

The Savar Press Club is a trade group in the Dhaka district that advocates for issues, including wage distribution, labor rights, and journalist safety.

Sakib and Haque said they do not know Islam. Islam told CPJ via messaging app that his complaint was “accurate” and claimed the two journalists were involved in “information terrorism.” Islam did not respond to CPJ’s follow-up question about his journalistic background. CPJ called, messaged, and emailed the Amar Somoy newspaper for comment, but did not receive any replies.

Separately, on July 30, Sakib received a notice from the Dhaka district deputy commissioner’s office, reviewed by CPJ, ordering the journalist to explain within seven days why Dainik Fulki’s license to operate should not be canceled following an application filed by Manjurul Alam Rajib, chair of a local government unit and an Awami League leader in Savar. The notice alleges that the July 27 article “achieved the task of tarnishing the image of the state.”

Sakib’s response, dated August 6 and reviewed by CPJ, denied that allegation, expressed regret over the “unintentional mistake,” and mentioned the published correction and apology. Haque told CPJ that he did not receive a similar notice at that time.

Bangladesh’s next national election is set for January 2024 and expected to be met with increasing violence. In late July 2023, police fired at opposition party protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, and beat them amid mass arrests of Bangladesh Nationalist Party leaders and activists.

In response to the government’s announcement on August 7 that the Digital Security Act will be replaced, CPJ called on authorities to ensure the new Cyber Security Act complies with international human rights law.

Hasan Mahmud, Bangladesh’s information minister and Awami League joint secretary, and Dipak Chandra Saha, officer-in-charge of the Savar Model Police Station, did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app. CPJ also contacted Rajib and Anisur Rahman, Dhaka district deputy commissioner, via messaging app for comment, but did not receive any replies.