Bangladesh Police Upgrade Defamation Charge Against Editor

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
160420-BD-sikder-1000 Bangladeshi editor Probir Sikder is pictured in Dhaka, April 20, 2016. Sikder, who said he moved to the Bangladeshi over fears for his safety, faces upgraded defamation charges for a Facebook posting last year.
Kamran Reza Chowdhury/BenarNews

Bangladeshi police have upgraded a defamation charge against an editor of a local newspaper for “tarnishing the image” of a minister who is the father-in-law of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s daughter, officials said.

Under a harsher law police have now formally re-filed the criminal defamation charged against Probir Sikder, editor of the daily Bangla 71, which is based in Faridpur, a district in central Bangladesh.

In August 2015, he was arrested on a lesser defamation charge for a Facebook post and newspaper story, and was later released on bail.

“My investigation shows that he [Sikder] tarnished the image of the honorable minister [local government official Khandker Mosharraf Hossain] through his Facebook post. He cannot do it. So charges have been placed before the court. Now, he must face the trial,” police investigator Monir Hossain told BenarNews on Wednesday.

Sikder is not the first editor to face criminal defamation charges in Bangladesh. On April 11, the country’s High Court ordered a three-month freeze on 72 out of 83 defamation and sedition lawsuits brought against Mahfuz Anam, editor of The Daily Star, the country’s largest English daily.

The suits were filed in courts nationwide after Anam admitted in a TV interview in February that his paper ran unverified articles in 2007, which were fed by the military and smeared politicians with corruption allegations. Among the politicians was Sheikh Hasina, who is now prime minister.

The upgraded charges against Sikder were framed under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, he said. The section states that anyone convicted of tarnishing the image of a person or the state through writings or electronic means can face a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 14 years in prison.

“The section 57 of the ICT act is a threat to freedom of expression. This should be revoked as our constitution guarantees such rights. Charging a journalist under the section for writing is not acceptable,” Imran H. Sarker, spokesman for Gonojagoron Moncho (Mass Awakening Platform), a grassroots movement, told BenarNews.

‘I will face the legal battle’

Sikder told BenarNews that he wrote in his newspaper and his Facebook page about the role of a billionaire in Faridpur during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971. He also wrote about the occupation of a Hindu household at the time by influential people, but without naming them.

“[T]he supporters of the minister, Hossain, and the billionaire started threatening me. I sought protection from police. But the police refused to record [this in] the general diary,” he said.

In a Facebook post dated Aug. 10, Sikder wrote that his life was in jeopardy and that minister Hossain, the billionaire and another influential person would be responsible if he were to be killed.

A public prosecutor in Faridpur, Swapon Pal, filed a defamation suit against Sikder, who was arrested on Aug. 16.

Pal told BenarNews that Sikder had defamed Hossain.

“So, he should be punished. I filed the case on behalf of the minister as I am his man. The minister is very kind and just person,” Pal said.

On Aug. 18, minister Hossain told reporters that Sikder “must be behind bars for writing against me.” He also challenged Sikder’s Facebook post.

Journalists and rights activists took to the streets to protest Sikder’s arrest before the court granted him bail the next day. He has since been living in Dhaka for his safety.

“I will face the legal battle,” Sikder told Benar.


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