Bangladesh: Two more journalists arrested; government trying to silence free speech

Press release

FIDH denounces the arrests of two journalists, Probir Sikdar and Shaukat Mahmud, as the Bangladeshi authorities continue their attacks against any voice that dares to criticise the state or religion.

“Bangladesh authorities continue to stifle freedom of expression, and are using the courts as a tool of repression,” stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

Journalist Probir Sikdar, owner of the online newspaper Uttaradhikar Ekattor News, was arrested on the evening of 16 August 2015 from his Dhaka office for allegedly defaming a government minister on Facebook. The offending post was made on 10 August 2015, in which Sikdar claimed to be under threat, naming Minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain as one of his aggressors. Sikdar appears to have made the post after his complaint concerning the threats was rejected by police. Sikdar was charged under the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act), which criminalises defamatory and “anti-State” publications and has been used to target dissenting voices. After being placed on a three-day remand on 18 August 2015, Sikdar was granted bail on 19 August 2015.

Similarly, on 18 August 2015 Shaukat Mahmud, President of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, was arrested by plain clothed policemen for allegedly committing an arson attack on a bus on 23 January 2015. Mahmud has been charged in three cases in connection with the alleged attack. At the time of his arrest, he was on his way to attend a meeting to address the electoral irregularities which occurred during the recent three City Corporation Elections. On 19 August 2015, a three-day remand period was imposed on Mahmud, who remains in detention.

These arrests occur in the wider context of increased repression of free and peaceful speech in Bangladesh. Only last week acting editor of the Amar Desh newspaper, Mahmudur Rahman, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for allegedly failing to submit his wealth statement in 2010. In addition, the proposed Cyber Security Act 2015 seeks to fortify the ICT Act, further tightening the power of the authorities to restrict alternative views.

FIDH calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately cease all harassment against journalists and those exercising peaceful free speech, including Shaukat Mahmud and Probir Sikdar. It further urges Bangladesh to uphold its obligations under international law to ensure that its people can exercise and defend the right to freedom of expression, including through ensuring the full independence and impartiality of the court system and appropriately amending the ICT Act.

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