Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the closure of the national daily Amar Desh and is concerned about the fate of its editor, Mahmudur Rahman, who was arrested during a pre-dawn raid on the newspaper today despite the protests of the journalists present. Rahman has been charged with fraud and violence against police officers. The newspaper’s printing press has also been closed.
“We condemn the closure of Amar Desh and the withdrawal of its licence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The night-time raid by armed police on the daily’s headquarters and the use of force to arrest editor Mahmudur Rahman are unworthy of a government that claims to respect the rule of law."
“The Awami League government is clearly unable to tolerate criticism from this opposition newspaper and, in particular, its coverage of the controversial award of energy contracts to foreign companies. Rahman was an advisor in these matters in the last BNP government and his revelations are damaging for the government.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We call for an independent and transparent investigation into the accusations that the government has brought against the newspaper and its editor. Pending the outcome of this investigation, we call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to allow Amar Desh to resume publishing and to obtain Mahmudur Rahman’s release.”
More than 100 armed police officers carried out the raid on Amar Desh’s premises in Dhaka in the early hours of today, seizing copies of today’s issue before they were distributed and arresting Rahman in his office. Several journalists were injured during the raid and five journalists were charged with violence. Rahman was placed in pre-trial detention on a charge of fraud, while the newspaper’s printing press was also closed.
Members of National Security Intelligence (NSI) yesterday went to the home of Amar Desh publisher Mohammad Hasmat Ali and took him to NSI headquarters, where he was forced to sign two blank sheets of papers.
The authorities subsequently claimed that Ali had signed two statements, one recognising that he had continued to pass himself off as the newspaper’s publisher after transferring ownership to Rahman’s media company, and one recognising that he wanted to sue Rahman. The police clearly wanted to trap both men in order to have the newspaper’s licence withdrawn under the 1973 press law.
Amar Desh begun publishing in September 2004 during the government led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, now in opposition.
Sheikh Hasina’s government has taken several decisions hostile to media freedom in the past two months: