Top Bangladesh daily hit with 2 cases for ‘undermining country’s independence’

Kamran Reza Chowdhury
Top Bangladesh daily hit with 2 cases for ‘undermining country’s independence’ Police escort journalist Shamsuzzaman (center), who was arrested under the Digital Security Act, to a court in Dhaka, March 30, 2023.

Pressure escalated against Bangladesh’s leading daily as it was hit with a second Digital Security Act case on Thursday, this time against the editor, over a recent report that a minister said “undermined” the country’s independence.

Earlier on Thursday, a court rejected bail for the Prothom Alo journalist Shamsuzzaman who wrote the March 26 report and had been arrested a day earlier under the same DSA. 

The case against Prothom Alo editor and publisher Matiur Rahman was filed by Abdul Malek Moshiur Malek, who is said to be affiliated with the ruling Awami League. Malek said the report had caused “unrest” among people and could harm the country’s image overseas, according to a copy of the complaint seen by BenarNews.

When journalists on Thursday asked Hasan Mahmud, the information minister, what was in the report that bothered Awami League members or those associated with the party, he said Bangladesh’s image had been sullied.

“Of course, through this incident, the county’s independence has been undermined, and the foundation of the country has been hit,” Mahmud told journalists.

Malek accused Rahman of “publishing and spreading information which is false, misleading and demeaning to the nation” in the report that was published on Bangladesh’s Independence Day, according to local news site

Similarly, Shamsuzzaman was arrested on a complaint filed by a ruling Awami League member who said the journalist “tarnished the government’s image” on the anniversary of the country’s independence.

The report in question quoted a laborer as saying: “What is the meaning of independence when we cannot manage food. …We need independence guaranteeing fish, meat and rice.”

The Digital Security Act, passed by the Awami League government in 2018, includes harsh prison sentences for online defamation, insulting a person’s religion and other offenses. The law empowers police to make arrests on suspicion and without a warrant, and 14 of its 20 provisions do not allow for bail.

Activists, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, have said the act is misused to punish critics of the government.

In January, Bangladesh think tank Center for Governance Studies organized a seminar on its study of Digital Security Act cases filed between October 2018 and August 2022.

“The most striking highlight of the study is the clear indication that the DSA is being used to target journalists and political opponents by members of the ruling party,” the center said in a summary of the webinar on its website. 

About 280 journalists were accused under the act during this period, while 84 were arrested.

‘Act of intimidation’

International media organizations and rights groups on Thursday slammed Shamsuzzaman’s arrest and the case against Rahman. 

They see these developments as a sign of an increasingly repressive government cracking down on its critics ahead of the national election scheduled for December or January 2024.

“Make no mistake, the arrest of Shamsuzzaman … and the case filed against Matiur Rahman have no legal basis and are clearly an act of intimidation by the government toward all journalists,” Daniel Bastard, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk, said in a statement.

“[W]ith less than a year to go to parliamentary elections, we call on Sheikh Hasina’s government to respect journalistic pluralism and independence, or else these elections will lack all democratic credibility.”

Reporters Without Borders also noted that a little under two weeks ago, the brother of an expatriate journalist, who has worked for international outlet Al Jazeera, was attacked in Dhaka by four men armed with steel bars.

The group claimed that the attackers told the man he was being beaten up because his brother wrote reports against the prime minister and the government. 

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said that filing DSA cases against the Prothom Alo journalist and editor “sets a dangerous precedent of controlling and intimidating the media.”

TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the act was being used “to silence dissent and intimidate anyone with a different opinion, especially journalists.”


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