Bangladeshi journalist arrested and another on run after writing about voting irregularities in election

Hedayet Hossain Mollah detained under controversial digital security law, which rights groups say gives state broad powers to stifle dissent

Harry Cockburn
Wednesday 02 January 2019 15:24
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Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina makes the victory signal after casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka
Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina makes the victory signal after casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka

A Bangladeshi journalist has been arrested and another is on the run after they wrote about voting irregularities in the country’s general election.

Sheikh Hasina will begin her third consecutive term as prime minister following a landslide victory on the 30 December election, which was marred by at least 12 deaths in the run-up, and numerous claims of ballot-rigging.

Hedayet Hossain Mollah, a journalist who works for the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, was detained on Tuesday evening under a controversial digital security law, which rights groups say gives the state broad powers to stifle dissent.

Mr Mollah was arrested after he reported that in one constituency 22,419 more ballots than the number of registered voters were cast, local police chief Mahbubur Rahman said.

“The actual votes cast were only 80 per cent of the total votes,” Mr Rahman told news agency AFP, adding that Mr Mollah was accused of “providing false information in an effort to make the election look questionable”.

Police said another journalist, who has not been named, was wanted for questioning after a local government administrator filed a case against the two also using the controversial law.

The Awami League-led coalition headed by 71-year old Ms Hasina won 288 seats in the 300-seat parliament.

The opposition alliance, which won only seven seats, have indicated they may not take up their seats in protest at the electoral process, which would result in the country having practically no opposition party.

In the run-up to the election, the opposition had blamed Ms Hasina’s government for arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of thousands of dissenters.

The jailing of Shahidul Alam – a renowned photographer – on charges of spreading propaganda against the government has also sparked criticism in Bangladesh and abroad.

The enactment of the digital security law ahead of the election was criticised by journalists and rights groups who said it would inhibit free speech and reporting.

“Sheikh Hasina’s government during its previous term displayed an increasingly authoritarian streak, deeming all legitimate criticism to be anti-state,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told the AP.

“The ruling Awami League’s student and youth groups had free rein to bully and intimidate, while civil society faced pressure to self-censor.”

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