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Bangladesh PM calls newspaper ‘enemy of the people’ after journalists arrested

‘I am saying with regret that they [Prothom Alo] never want to permit any stability in this country’

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Monday 10 April 2023 13:20 BST
Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina
Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina (EPA)

Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday said the nation's highest circulating daily Prothom Alo was the enemy of democracy and the country’s people.

Her statement comes at a time when rights groups have raised concerns about the diminishing freedom of the press in the nation of 170 million people.

Shamsuzzaman Shams, a reporter with the Bengali-language daily, was charged for writing a "false" news piece on the rising food prices in the South Asian country.

On 26 March, a report by Shams quoted a labourer as saying that the country’s independence didn’t mean much to him while he struggles to survive because of high inflation and other reasons. But when the news piece was shared on the daily's Facebook page, it mistakenly used a wrong photo of a person who was quoted.

The news drew criticism as the newspaper used a child’s photo with a quote from a 40-year-old labourer named Zakir, identifying the child as Zakir, according to the local media reports.

The Prothom Alo revised the story and photo shortly.

"To hand Tk10 to a small child, to make him tell a lie, to get some words from the child's mouth… what were the words? [We] want the independence of [having] rice, meat and fish," Ms Hasina told the parliament on Monday.

"The name of the paper is Prothom Alo (first light), but it lives in darkness. Prothom Alo is the enemy of Awami League, democracy and the people of the country.

"They never want the stability of this nation."

Shams was picked up on 30 March from his home in the suburb of capital Dhaka, while his laptop and two phones were seized. He has been charged under Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act, which rights activists and lawyers in the country claim is used as a tool to silence the critics of the government.

Prothom Alo editor and publisher Matiur Rahman, an unnamed assistant cameraman, and others were also sued in the same case.

Shams was later freed on bail on 3 April.

Nearly 3,000 people have been charged under the Digital Security Act since it was enacted in 2018, including about 280 journalists, AFP reported, citing a local think-tank.

Last month, the only newspaper run by the country’s opposition party ceased publishing after the government suspended its licence. The Dainik Dinkal, a broadsheet Bengali-language newspaper, which has been the mouthpiece of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for over three decades, stopped printing by the end of February.

Reporters Without Borders ranks Bangladesh 162 of 180 countries in its 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

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