20 December 2012
IFJ Calls for Withdrawal of Sedition Charge against Bangladesh Newspaper
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls for the withdrawal of sedition charges laid against the Amar Desh newspaper, its editor and publisher, after it published what were purportedly the transcripts of telephone conversations and emails exchanged between the head of Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal and an overseas expert on war crimes jurisprudence.
The material, originally published on the website of the London-based weekly newspaper, The Economist, was reproduced in Amar Desh and led to the chief prosecutor of the Tribunal moving the High Court of Bangladesh for action under the sedition law and the country’s Information Technology Act, which prohibits the unauthorised recording of private telephone conversations and email messages.
Justice Nizamul Haq “Nasim”, who heads one of the benches of the Tribunal set up in 2011 to try war crimes committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 war of liberation, has since resigned his position. A second bench of the Tribunal has issued an injunction against any further media reporting of the allegedly hacked conversations and messages.
The Economist has declined to identify the sources of the hacked conversations, as they believe this would put them in physical danger. It has defended the decision to publish the material on the grounds of “compelling public interest” and transparency in the administration of justice.
Amar Desh, its editor Mahmudur Rahman (who is formally designated as “acting editor”) and publisher Hasmat Ali were charged with sedition for bringing the proceedings of the Tribunal into disrepute and seeking to undermine public faith in its proceedings. The High Court has called for a report within two weeks on the action the government intends to take against the newspaper.
Under Bangladesh’s sedition law, an accused person can be arrested without a warrant. Fearing arrest, Mahmudur Rahman reportedly has confined himself to his office premises since the case was lodged.
The IFJ urges the authorities in Bangladesh to withdraw the charge of sedition since there is little ground to believe that Amar Desh had any role in hacking the telephone conversations or email account of Justice Nizamul Haq.
The newspaper’s decision to publish the conversations which were circulating widely over the internet, may have been in line with its editorial assessment of the public interest. It occurred, moreover, before any judicial injunction preventing publication was issued.
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