Abul Asad, publisher of The Daily Sangram, a Bangla-language newspaper, was imprisoned on December 13, 2019, on accusations of sedition and violating the Digital Security Act after his paper published an article praising an executed opposition leader.
On December 12, 2019, The Daily Sangram published a story marking the anniversary of the 2013 execution of Abdul Quader Molla, and called him a “martyr” in its headline, according to news reports. Qauder Molla was a member of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, and was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in Bangladesh’s 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, according to those reports. According to the BBC, The Daily Sangram is run in part by the Jamaat-e-Islami party.
On December 13, police in Dhaka arrested Asad at The Daily Sangram’s office as protesters ransacked the building over the article, destroying televisions, computers, and furniture, according to news reports.
The following day, a Dhaka court ordered Asad to be held in police custody for three days while authorities conducted an investigation; when that period expired, a court ordered him to be jailed for an unspecified period of time pending the investigation, according to Shishir Monir, Asad’s lawyer, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview in late 2020.
The investigation stems from a complaint filed by Afzal Hossain, a local leader of a welfare association of veterans of the Bangladesh Liberation War, at a police station in the Hatirjheel area of Dhaka, alleging that Asad committed sedition and violated the Digital Security Act by publishing the report, according to news reports and Monir.
Additional Attorney General Murad Reza, who argued against Asad’s release in a hearing on the journalist’s bail application, told CPJ in a phone interview in September 2020 that the police charge sheet was expected to be filed on October 10. However, no charges had been formally filed in Asad’s case as of early November 2020, Monir said.
Asad was denied bail numerous times on the grounds that his case was a “sensitive issue,” Monir told CPJ. He was granted interim bail for one year on September 23, 2020, but on September 29 the appellate court stayed that order, and Asad was not released, Monir said.
Reza told CPJ the government had argued to block Asad’s bail because the allegations against him were “very serious.”
The Supreme Court granted Asad bail on November 5, but he had not been released as of late November, Monir said. Asad is being held at Kashimpur Central Jail, about 20 miles north of Dhaka, Monir said.
Asad is suffering from respiratory distress and cataract in his left eye, which is going blind, Monir said, adding that the journalist’s respiratory problems were preexisting and not related to the COVID-19 pandemic.