Bangladesh Court Freezes 72 Criminal Suits Against Editor

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Dhaka
2016-04-11
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160411-BD-anam-620.jpg Mahfuz Anam (center), editor and publisher of The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s leading English newspaper, walks from a court in Rangpur district after posting bail, March 1, 2016.
AFP

The High Court ordered a three-month freeze Monday on scores of defamation and sedition lawsuits against the editor of Bangladesh’s leading English newspaper, giving the government until July to persuade the judges about the legality of proceeding with these cases.

The court put a stay on 72 of 83 criminal defamation and sedition cases brought by ruling party leaders and supporters against Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, his lawyer told BenarNews.

Separately, a Bangladeshi free press advocate hailed the court’s order.

“I see staying the cases against Mahfuz Anam and the rule on the government as a positive development in protecting the journalists from legal proceedings,” A.H.M. Bazlur Rahman, CEO of the Bangladesh NGOs Network for Radio and Communication, told BenarNews.

“I am hopeful that the court will give its decision to uphold the freedom of expression enshrined in our constitution,” he added.

The suits were filed in courts across the country 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.

The reports led to arrests of prominent politicians, including Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister, and Khaleda Zia, now the leader of the opposition, when Bangladesh was ruled by a military-backed caretaker government.

“My client, Mahfuz Anam, has been facing a total of 83 cases [66 defamation and 17 sedition cases]. He has got bail in 10 cases from courts in different parts of the country,” attorney Chaitanya Chandra Halder told Benar.

“We moved in the High Court against [72 of the cases] and the court today stayed the proceedings of the cases for three months,” Halder said.

However, there is an outstanding defamation case against Anam, which was filed in the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar and in which Anam has yet to secure bail, the lawyer added.

“Mahfuz Anam will fight the Cox’s Bazar case legally,” Halder said.

“Then the court will decide, possibly in three months, whether the 72 cases should continue or be rejected,” said lawyer Halder.

If convicted of charges related to sedition, Anam could be sentenced to three years to life in prison, and he could face up to two years in prison if found guilty of defamation, according to the country’s criminal code.

‘Biggest mistake’

After Anam admitted on a TV talk-show that he had made the “biggest mistake” of his journalistic career by publishing unsubstantiated reports fed to The Daily Star by military intelligence officials, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the prime minister’s son, called for Anam’s arrest for having published false stories about his mother nine years ago.

Later in February, Hasina followed suit by calling for prosecuting Anam and Matiur Rahman, editor of the Daily Star’s sister newspaper, the Bengali-language Prothom Alo, which also allegedly published military-fed content in 2007.

Rahman has not yet been charged or named in any related suits.

“We will send the government’s reply to the court when the hearing will take place,” Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told BenarNews, referring to Monday’s court order and an upcoming hearing in July. “We have yet to get any directive from the government on this issue.”

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