Police arrested Chowdhury, a senior reporter for the government-controlled news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and a stringer for Reuters news agency, for allegedly fabricating comments, attributed to the home minister, that al-Qaeda may have been responsible for a series of bombings on December 7, 2002, that killed at least 17 people in the northern town of Mymensingh. Reuters’ coverage of the attacks quoted the statements.
Home Minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury (no relation to the journalist) denied making the statements. Reuters later withdrew five stories regarding the explosions that ran on December 7 and 8, saying it could “no longer vouch for the accuracy of the remarks,” and that it was conducting an internal investigation into its coverage of the attacks. BSS dismissed Enamul Hoque Chowdhury on December 14.
A police statement issued after the journalist’s arrest said that his reporting had “tarnished the country’s image internationally and threatened its relations with powerful and friendly countries.” Police later filed a case against the journalist for complicity in the Mymensingh bomb attacks, which the government claims were part of a conspiracy by the political opposition to destroy the administration’s reputation. He is being held under Bangladesh’s Special Powers Act, which allows for preventive detention of anyone suspected of anti-state activities.
“We permit a free press,” Communications Minister Nazmul Huda told London’s Financial Times. “But we will not allow reporters to besmirch our reputation internationally by making unsubstantiated allegations about Islamic extremism or the presence of an al-Qaeda cell.”
Chowdhury admitted to colleagues that he mistakenly attributed comments about al-Qaeda’s possible role in the blasts to the home minister. However, the journalist has denied any criminal wrongdoing. Legal challenges to his detention were ongoing in January 2003. The High Court ordered a medical board to examine Chowdhury for evidence that he was tortured while in police custody. As this book went to press, Chowdhury was imprisoned at Dhaka Central Jail.