Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Bangladesh bans daily Amar Desh, editor arrested

SALEEM SAMAD, Dhaka, Bangladesh

BANGLADESH AUTHORITIES forcibly shut down the opposition Bangla-language daily Amar Desh as of June 2 and arrested the acting editor Mahmudur Rahman (m) early morning on charges of fraud.

Few hours before the authority cancelled the license of the newspaper arguing that the daily was being published without any authorized publisher and has not been approved by the relevant authority as described in Printing Presses and Publications Act, 1973.

Hours after the cancellation of the opposition daily and filing of fraud cases against the editor, nearly 200 riot police with bullet-proof vest (flak jackets) armed with batons, tear-gas and automatic rifles encircled the newspaper office in a commercial area of the capital and also the printing plant shortly before midnight (June 1).

As the newspaper was being printed the riot police along with security agents from Special Branch stormed the printing plant and stopped the publishing the daily. The police confiscated the June 2 printed newspapers before it could be distributed to newsstand. The police also sealed the printing press in the industrial zone, confirmed Tejgaon police chief Omar Faruk.

The journalists and other employees of the newspaper barricaded the main entrance to the office for several hours and closed the lift (elevator) for the 10th floor office to prevent police officers from entering the newspaper office. The journalists chanted anti-government slogans. Shortly before dawn the police baton charged the agitating journalists. Dozens of journalists and employees were hurt, but not seriously.

Shortly after 4:00 am in the morning of June 2, plainclothes security agents accompanied by police officers in riot-gear barged into the editor’s office and took him into custody on charged of fraud (under Criminal Procedure Code 420).

The civil administrator Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka, Mohibul Haque (m) claimed that the declaration of the newspaper has been cancelled as the publisher has quit last October, BBC quoted him.

The civil administrator cancelled the declaration according to Article-5 and -7 of Part-III of the Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act, 1973. Article-5 says, "No newspaper shall be printed or published except in conformity with the provisions of this part and unless there subsists an authenticated declaration in respect thereof."

Leaders of the journalists union said they are not clear why the broadsheet was shut down, which hit the newsstands during the previous regime in September 2004. The daily was popular among pro-opposition supporters.

The arrest capped a 17-hour drama after the paper's publisher Mohammad Hashmat Ali (m), who himself was briefly 'detained', sued Mahmudur on Tuesday night, reports news portal bdnews24.com.

The administrator explained said the publisher Ali notified the Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka office in March that he is no longer the publisher of the newspaper and has quit from the responsibility. Until June 1, Amar Desh published with Mohammad Hasmat Ali's name as the publisher in the printer's line, writes Daily Star.

The events unfolding since morning – when Ali’s family said he had been whisked away by plainclothes security agents to an undisclosed place. Later it took a new twist when the Dhaka's deputy commissioner Mohibul Haque cancelled the paper's declaration at 10 pm – after government office close at 6:00 pm.

The energy adviser to former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia (2001-2006) addressed a hurriedly called news conference at the daily's office, after Rahman talked to Hashmat Ali soon after he returned from his brief detention at National Security Intelligence (NSI) office, who had told him that he was 'frightened'.

Rahman said the security agents took Ali and forced him to sign two papers. "He was made to sit at their office for several hours until he signed two papers," the editor alleged.

Rahman, chairman of Amar Desh Publications Limited said the press meet was organised to protest the current government's 'autocratic' behaviour and conspiracy against the news media.

Among the two papers in white he signed, one addressed to the civil administration reads: “I, Md. Hasmat Ali, is no longer the publisher of the Amar Desh newspaper. The newspaper is being published using my name. I am requesting to take legal action against the move".

Earlier on the day (June 1) Ali’s family told bdnews24.com that he was picked up by security agents and returned to his residence in the capital after six hours.

Neither security agency nor the police admitted the “detention” of the former publisher. Security agency and police also denied having any charges against Ali.

Later publisher Ali said he has quit as publishers on 11 October last year and the resignation application was submitted to the civil administration for necessary formalities. Despite his resignation as publisher, Rahman continued to have his name as Amar Desh.

This has caused him trouble. Ali said during the tenure at least 30 defamation cases were filed against the daily and he was implicated as accused in all the cases. He said this has tarnished his social image and incurred financial loss.

Rahman took over the management of the newspaper in September 2008. Later the newspaper management sent a letter requesting the authority to change the name of the editor and publisher to the relevant Deputy Commissioners of Dhaka office. However, the government has never communicated to the newspaper management that the authorities would allow change of name of editor and publisher. Since then Rahman was the acting editor of the Amar Desh and Hashmat Ali remained as publisher.

Reazuddin Ahmed (m) leader of the South Asian Freed Media Association (SAFMA) remarked that closure of newspaper tantamount to of curb of freedom of press and taints the image of the democratic government.

The updated website of Amar Desh concluded the newspaper was not shut down and the editor was not arrested because of the Amar Desh content.

PROTEST
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) strongly reacted to the ban of the newspaper and arrest of its editor.

BNP Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain (m) demanded immediate release of Mahmudur Rahman and urged the government to cancel its decision to close the publication of Amar Desh.

He also announced that the party will stage demonstration across the country on June 2 afternoon in protest against the arrest of Amar Desh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman.

LITIGATION
Meanwhile the Supreme Court Appellate Division has issued a contempt of court rule on June 2 against Amar Desh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman, publisher Hashmat Ali and three others for publishing a report in the Bangla-language daily. It also asked them to explain in two weeks why they should not face the charge.

A lawyer Reazuddin Khan filed the petition following a report published in the newspaper on April 21 stating that a petition filed with the chamber judge means stay order in favour of the government.

OPPOSITION
Former Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Barrister Moudud Ahmed and opposition member of parliament raised on the point of order remarked that the newspaper was illegally shut down because it was writing the truth and government fears speaking the truth.

Soon after the opposition members of parliament walked out for the second time in the evening of June 2 protesting the closure of Amar Desh, and arrest of its acting editor Mahmudur Rahman.

IMPRISONED
A magistrate's court on June 2 sent Amar Desh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman to jail and asked police to question him at the jail gate office in the next three days in a case accusing him of assault on police officers.

The court dismissed the police request to take Rahman into remand in custody for five days on the charges.

Rahman secured bail from the court in another fraud case filed by the former newspaper's publisher Hashmat Ali.

They later filed a case against Rahman and other journalists of the newspaper on charges of assault on police officials and obstruction of duty.

Rahman along with deputy editor and chief correspondent Syed Abdal Ahmed, reporters Sanjeeb Chowdhury, Jahed Chowdhury, Alauddin Arif, along with another 100 unidentified people were made the defendants in the case.

Lawyers Masud Ahmed Talukder and Sanaullah Mia on behalf of editor Rahman argued said the assault on police case was filed intentionally to put him under bars.

GOVERNMENT
Reaffirming her administration's commitment towards freedom of expression, prime minister Sheikh Hasina has said the media in Bangladesh enjoys adequate freedom.

The prime minister made the remark when US ambassador to Bangladesh James F Moriarty called on her on June 3.

The prime minister's comments came amid criticism by opposition political parties that the government was gagging the media by closing Amar Desh and blocking social networking website Facebook.

Earlier the Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad told parliament on June 2 that it was not the government but the Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka who had closed the Bangla daily Amar Desh for alleged violation of the publication law.

He was responding to the allegation of opposition BNP Moudud Ahmed, MP who blamed the government for closure of the newspaper.

QUIZ
Police on June 3 have quizzed recently closed Amar Desh newspaper's acting editor Mahmudur Rahman at the jail gate office for just over half an hour in a case accusing him of assault on police.

Police sub-inspector Rezaul Islam questioned him in the afternoon, but refused to divulge details of the interrogation for the sake of investigation. #