Int’l media groups condemn Bangladesh shutting down main opposition newspaper

Ahammad Foyez
Int’l media groups condemn Bangladesh shutting down main opposition newspaper Members of the Bangladesh Journalists’ Union protest the shutdown of the “Dainik Dinkal” newspaper in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka, Feb. 20, 2023.

International press groups are condemning the shutting down of Dainik Dinkal, a Bengali-language daily run by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, in what critics say is the latest sign of the government’s tightening grip on the news media.

The government said the daily was shut down because its publisher, Tarique Rahman, son of opposition figurehead Khaleda Zia, has been convicted of crimes in Bangladesh, violating the Printing and Publishing Law.

However, human rights groups as well as Western governments, including the United Stated administration, have in recent months expressed concern about the shrinking space for freedom of speech and criticism of the Sheikh Hasina government ahead of the general election scheduled for December or January 2024.

On Friday, Media Freedom Coalition in Bangladesh, a partnership of countries jointly working for media freedom, said “a free press and free speech play a key role in a transparent democracy.”

“We … express our concern about the Government of Bangladesh’s recent decision to cancel the declaration (authorization to publish) of the Dainik Dinkal,” said the coalition whose members are from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a media rights group, noted that Dainik Dinkal covers BNP activities and has frequently criticized the ruling Awami League party, including the arrests of BNP politicians and supporters “in what rights groups have characterized as a crackdown ahead of elections.”

Earlier this week, Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director in New York, said the newspaper’s shutdown was “a blatant attack on media freedom ahead of Bangladesh’s January 2024 national election.”

“Closing a newspaper violates the democratic principles purportedly espoused by the Awami League-led government, and we call on the Bangladesh Press Council to review its order and uphold the free flow of information,” he said. 

Dainik Dinkal, which had a circulation of about 3,000, stopped publication on Feb. 20. It had been the mouthpiece of the opposition BNP since 1991.

The Dhaka District Magistrate office canceled the newspaper’s registration on Dec. 26, citing publisher Rahman’s criminal conviction along with violation of publishing laws.

Rahman, who is acting chairman of the BNP and opposition leader Khaleda’s political heir, has been convicted of corruption in relation to a 2004 grenade attack targeting Hasina, who was serving as opposition leader back then.

The district magistrate office said Rahman, who has been living in London since 2008, had not handed over the publisher position to someone living in Bangladesh like he should have. Additionally, the publication changed the office address and its printer without permission, actions which were against the law.

The newspaper then suspended publication Dec. 27, but resumed printing after filing an appeal against the district magistrate’s order on Dec. 29.

That appeal filed with the Appellate Board of the Bangladesh Press Council was rejected on Feb. 19.

The Appellate Board’s head Justice Md. Nizamul Haque Nasim spoke to BenarNews, but did not offer details.

“This daily cannot be published anymore. They must comply with the rules in order to be published,” he told BenarNews.

Why now?

BenarNews was unable to get clear answers on why action was taken against Dainik Dinkal at this time since Rahman has been living abroad since 2008.

The Dhaka District Magistrate office’s order revoking the newspaper’s registration said the Department of Film and Publication (DFP) had recommended action in October 2019. The department regulates the publishing industry.

BenarNews spoke to S. M. Golam Kibria, DFP’s director general in October 2019. He said the newspaper made many changes without informing the government, which was against the law.

“There is an obligation to inform the government according to the Publication Act in the case of any such decision. So we had to request the district magistrate as per law to take action on such irregularities,” he told BenarNews.

But Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas, managing editor of Dainik Dinkal, said the government had been informed of a change in publisher.

“After being convicted, Tarique Rahman submitted an application to the Bangladesh Embassy in London, appointing Mr. Ahmed Azam Khan as the publisher through an affidavit in 2016. But we were never told why the government did not take it into account,” Shimul Biswas told BenarNews.

“We think the government did not accept the application of the Dinkal publisher as it had already planned it was going to close Dinkal.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.