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Bangladesh bans publisher from book fair for critical titles

Western governments and the United Nations express concern over the political climate in Bangladesh

Shoppers check books at a stall during Ekushey Boi Mela book fair in Dhaka on Feb. 16, 2022

Shoppers check books at a stall during Ekushey Boi Mela book fair in Dhaka on Feb. 16, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 20, 2023 05:24 AM GMT

Updated: January 20, 2023 05:43 AM GMT

A leading Bangladeshi publisher known for its works by dissident writers said Thursday it had been banned from the country's leading book fair, in the latest government clampdown on its critics.

The Ekushey Book Fair is organized by the Bangla Academy, the government's state-run literacy agency, and is a major event on the local cultural calendar.

Leading Bengali writers gather in the capital Dhaka each February to discuss their work, and millions of dollars' worth of books are sold at the month-long festival.

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Publishing house Adarsha had planned to exhibit, but chief executive Mahabubur Rahman said its titles critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government had fallen foul of censors.

"The academy has blocked us from opening our stall in the fair and they did not even bother to inform us directly," Rahman told reporters at a press conference in Dhaka.

"When I contacted them in person, the organizers responded that three of the books we published contained criticism of the government, the ruling party and its student wing."

Organizers did not officially clarify the reason behind the ban, but a Bangla Academy official said some of Adarsha's books were "against the policy" of the academy.

"Objections regarding some of their books were raised and we found that they conflict with our policy," book fair committee member A.K.M. Muzahidul Islam told The Daily Star newspaper.

"There are various statements against the government," he added.

The ban prompted dismay on social media, with leading authors and Bangladeshi academics lending their support to the publishing house.

"Banning a leading publisher that tries to accommodate dissenting voices without officially citing any reasons is clearly an authoritarian move," lawyer and rights activist Jyotirmoy Barua told AFP.

Western governments and the United Nations have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh, where Hasina's party dominates the legislature and runs it virtually as a rubber stamp.

Rights groups say her government has imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including muzzling local media outlets.

Washington leveled sanctions against top Bangladeshi security officers in 2021 over their roles in the extrajudicial killing of the ruling party's political opponents.

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