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Bangladeshi newspaper editor harassed under Digital Security Act

According to a recent report published by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning Bangladeshi journalist and editor of Weekly Blitz newspaper, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is facing proceedings under the infamous Digital Security Act (DSA), a draconian law introduced by the Bangladesh government for suffocating freedom of press and liberty of expression. The CPJ report published on March 3, 2022, says: On May 6, 2021, Shahana Rashid Sanu, a poet, and literary writer, filed a complaint against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor of the tabloid Weekly Blitz, at the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal, pointing to eight articles published on its website, which accused Sanu and her sons of engaging in criminal and anti-government activities, according to a copy of the complaint, which CPJ reviewed, and Choudhury, who spoke to CPJ by phone.

On June 10, 2021, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal referred the case to the cybercrime unit of the Dhaka police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for investigation, Choudhury told CPJ. On August 16, 2021, CID officers interrogated Choudhury for around two hours, during which they repeatedly asked him why he published the articles and demanded he reveals his sources, he said.

Section 40 of the Digital Security Act allows authorities 60 days to complete an investigation, which can be extended with judicial approval. The CID submitted applications to extend the investigation period on June 22, 2021, September 30, 2021, and November 17, 2021, according to Choudhury.

On January 23, 2022, Sub-inspector Mehdi Hassan filed an investigative report at the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal which accused Choudhury of violating three sections of the Digital Security Act pertaining to the publication of offensive, false, or threatening information; defamation; and abetment.

The first two offenses can each carry a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine between 300,000 Taka (US$3,500) and 500,000 Taka (US$5,815), according to the law, which states that abetment carries the same punishment as committing an offense itself.

On February 17, 2022, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal issued a summons for Choudhury to appear on April 6, 2022, at which time the journalist’s lawyer will file an application for anticipatory bail, Choudhury said, adding that if anticipatory bail is denied, the tribunal will frame, or determine the nature of, the charges against him.

Sub-inspector Mehdi Hassan, the investigating officer in the case, did not respond to CPJ’s text message requesting comment. Plaintiff of the case Shahana Rashid Sanu did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.

The reason behind no response from the investigating officer in the case and the plaintiff is simple – they have abetted in cooking up this outrageous charge against Mr. Choudhury with the ulterior motive of harassing him.

According to a report published by an Indian news site The Eastern Herald: Shahana Rashid Sanu posted a video of Mizanur Rahman Azhari on March 21, 2021, on her Facebook ID protesting the Bangladesh visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PM Modi visited Bangladesh to attend the Golden Jubilee celebration of Bangladesh’s victory against Pakistani occupation forces. In the comment section of this notorious post, several people suggested waging jihad against the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

In the report submitted with the Cyber Tribunal, Criminal Investigation Department (CID) has categorically mentioned that Shahana Rashid Sanu has in writing admitted that she had posted the above-mentioned video. She and her sons also have confessed to publishing several defamatory posts on Facebook and other social media platforms against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury and in favor of Pakistan. As per the existing law of Bangladesh, immediately after making such a confessional statement, CID should have referred the matter to relevant authorities for bringing sedition and treason charges against Shahana Rashid Sanu. But in this case, Bangladesh Police, instead of taking necessary steps against Sanu and her sons, has made an outrageous attempt to harass the editor of Weekly Blitz newspaper. In this case, no one has raised a question as to why the Bangladesh Police has openly become a patron of jihadists and anti-government elements such as Shahana Rashid Sanu. Is it because the United States Department of Treasury had imposed sanctions on Benazir Ahmed, Inspector General of Police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), and several officers of it?

According to a press release, the U.S. Department of State has announced visa restrictions under Section 7031(c) of the FY 2021 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act on Benazir Ahmed due to his involvement in gross violations of human rights, making him ineligible for entry into the United States.

It may be mentioned here that, back in 2007, the United States Congress passed a resolution in favor of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, where it was clearly stated: “the Government of Bangladesh should cease harassment and intimidation of Mr. Choudhury and take steps to protect Mr. Choudhury”. The latest case of falsely pressing charges against Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is not only a matter of grave concern, it also has clearly ignored the resolution passed by the United States Congress. Now it is essential for the U.S. authorities as well as other governments in the Western nations to initiate immediate measures of punishing those officials of Bangladesh Police and the judiciary who are using the Digital Security Act in intimidating journalists in the country. The U.S. authorities should impose sanctions on the officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Cyber Tribunal for abetting with a proven militancy patron like Shahana Rashid Sanu and her cronies.

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