A Dhaka judge Tuesday sent three journalists working for a website to jail, but turned down a police request to remand them over a story they had published that debunked another website’s report about a rumor of a plane crash involving the prime minister’s son.
The three, who were arrested on Sunday, were jailed without bail and face possible charges under Section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act of 2006, their lawyers said. Those tried and convicted under the clause can be sentenced to between seven and 14 years in prison.
Meanwhile, the head of Bangladesh’s telecommunication regulator told BenarNews that it had blocked their website, banglamail24, and the site that had published a report about the rumor involving Sajeeb Wazed Joy, todaynews71.
The online blocks bring to 37 the number of websites blocked by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) in recent days. The first 35 were blocked for allegedly making “objectionable comments” about the government, Commission Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood said.
Banglamail24 and todaynews71 were blocked for “spreading a rumor about the prime minister’s son,” he told Benar on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, 26 rights advocacy groups sent a joint letter to the Bangladeshi government calling on it to release Shafik Rehman, the editor of a Bangladeshi magazine, who has been jailed since his arrest in April over allegations that he conspired with others to harm the prime minister’s son.
“The delays in this case suggest that there is no evidence against Mr. Rehman, and that he should be released,” BBC News quoted the 26 groups, including Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, as saying in the letter.
“Mr. Rehman is a professional journalist who has spent a lifetime working for freedom of expression. We are concerned that his arrest represents an attack on press freedoms and forms part of a worrying trend in Bangladesh," the letter added.
‘To benefit the state’
On Sunday night, Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion arrested banglamail24.com executive editor Maksudul Alam, acting editor Shahadat Ullah Khan, and reporter Pranta Palash over its report about the report published by todaynews71.
RAB spokesman Mufti Mahmud Khan on Tuesday told BenarNews that his force was trying to locate the people running todaynews71.
“The site has no office. Nowadays, one laptop is enough to run an online portal. The person or persons behind posting the fake news would be arrested if we can locate them,” Khan said.
On Tuesday, police escorted the three banglamail24.com journalists to the courtroom of Dhaka Metropolitan Magistrate Golam Nabi.
Meanwhile, a security staff member where the banglamail24.com is located told BenarNews on condition of anonymity that RAB had sealed off the office. Its staffers, including publisher Fazlul Azim, a former MP from the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, have gone into hiding.
Police sub-inspector Mizanur Rahman sought a seven-day remand to interrogate the journalists, while Mubinul Islam and fellow defense lawyer Priya Lal Shaha argued against the remand.
“The court has turned down the remand request of the police and sent my clients to jail. The hearing on their bail will take place in the cyber court as the charges are related to cybercrime,” Islam told reporters following the hearing.
“The news item that created an uproar on Facebook was served to benefit the state, but RAB could not understand it,” Islam told the court, adding that banglamail24.com posted the news item so that people would not pay heed to the fake report.
“My clients had no intention of undermining the state, the prime minister or her son,” Islam told the court.