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Government defends crackdown on Islamist media

Paper and TV channels were inciting anarchy, says Bangladesh minister

Government defends crackdown on Islamist media

Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu speaks to reporters in Dhaka  (Photo:Press Information Department) reporter, Dhaka

May 21, 2013

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A recent crackdown on a newspaper and two TV channels with strong links to Islamists should not be seen as a move to suppress freedom of the press in the country, a government minister said yesterday.

“The media has absolute freedom and must act with responsibility. But a vested quarter has violated rules and incited anarchy by publishing and broadcasting false and fabricated information, which the government had to stop to maintain law and order,” said Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu.

The minister was referring to the shutting down of Amar Desh, a local daily, as well as the Diganta and Islamic TV channels, all linked to the Islamist opposition Jamaat-e-Islami Party.

The party’s leadership is being charged for crimes against humanity allegedly committed during Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war.

Amar Desh suspended printing on April 15 after the authorities “sealed off” one of its presses and prevented printing at another print house.

Police had arrested its acting editor, Mahmudur Rahman, on April 11 and charged him with sedition for publishing transcripts of an alleged Skype conversation between an International Crimes Tribunal judge and an expatriate Bangladeshi legal expert.

The newspaper was also accused of fabricating several stories which included demands for the death penalty for war criminals and moves to ban Jamaat.

The TV channels were taken off air on May 6, amid allegations they were broadcasting provocative news reports on clashes between police and activists of the radical Islamic group, Hifazat-e-Islam, during an anti-blasphemy rally in Dhaka on May 5.

Speaking to reporters in Dhaka, the minister criticized a statement signed by 16 newspaper editors on Saturday demanding the release of Rahman and to allow the newspaper and TV channels to operate again.

Mahmudur Rahman’s arrest and continued detention was a threat to the freedom of the press, the statement said. It added that blocking a newspaper and TV channels were sending a negative message to the world about Bangladesh’s democratic values, culture and tolerance.

“Mahmudur Rahman has scripted an infamous chapter in media history in Bangladesh. Backing a ‘tainted person’ like him will do no good for the media,” said the minister, adding that three media houses are accused of inciting religious sentiments and provoking violence which are criminal offenses.

The statement has triggered heated debate and shocked the country’s leading secular organizations.

“We are shocked to see top newspaper editors backing provocative and propagandist media which have continuously taken a stand against country’s secular and democratic values,” said Shahriar Kabir, acting head of the Committee for War Crimes Trial and Secular Bangladesh.

However, Golam Rahman, professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at Dhaka University says that press freedom is a must for a democratic nation, but the press itself must act responsibly.

“Freedom of the press is an essential element of democracy and we don’t like crackdowns on the media. But the media must not abuse its power to misguide people,” said Rahman.

“It is up to the court to make judgments on Amar Desh and the TV channels. If they are found guilty they must be punished, if not they should be allowed to operate freely,” Rahman added.     

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