Arrested at his Dhaka home on the evening of 5 August by around 30 plainclothes officers, Shahidul Alam is facing a possible 14-year jail term for supposedly “provocative” comments – a charge that is at the very least specious – under the notorious and appalling section 57 of Bangladesh’s Information and Communication Technology Act.
“The Bangladeshi justice system must try to recover a semblance of credibility by freeing Shahidul Alam at once,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “There are absolutely no procedural grounds for keeping him in detention and, as regards the substance of the case, it unacceptable to prosecute a journalist for doing his job by disseminating information in the public interest.”
Bastard added: “Shahidul is clearly being scapegoated in order to intimidate all independent journalists. With just five months to go to a general election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government needs to demonstrate that it respects press freedom.”
Alam was arrested after what was a dark day for Bangladeshi press freedom, in which around 30 journalists were the targets of violence by members of the ruling party’s student wing, the Chhatra League, because of their coverage of a wave of student protests in Dhaka.
RSF has monitored repeated press freedom violations by different branches of the Bangladeshi state – including media censorship, blocking of news networks, arrests of journalists and physical attacks on journalists – since the wave of protests was triggered by the deaths of two school students on 29 July.
At the end of last week, the police announced that they had arrested 12 social network users for “spreading rumours” in a manner similar to Alam.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.