15 August 2016 – Bangladeshi authorities should stop all criminal proceedings against three journalists from news website banglamail24, drop all charges against them, and restore press credentials to nine of their colleagues, PEN International said today. The three journalists, arrested on 7 August and released on bail on 14 August, could face up to 14 years in prison under the countries hugely restrictive Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), if criminal proceedings against them continue.
The three journalists, banglamail24 Executive Editor Maksukul Alam, acting Editor Shahadat Ullah Khan, and reporter Pranta Palash, were arrested on 14 August after the news website published a report contesting a rumour of a plane crash involving the prime minister’s son, Sajeeb Wazed Joy. After the arrest of the three journalists, the news website bdnews24 reported that the government had released a statement revoking the press accreditations of nine other journalists from banglamail24.
‘The arrest of these journalists, under such absurd circumstances raises serious concerns about the state of freedom of expression in Bangladesh and is a clear example of the way in which the authorities use overbroad restrictions in laws to censor and ultimately silence independent voices. The Bangladeshi authorities must must drop all charges against these journalists,’ - said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
According to reports, the journalists could face charges under article 57 of Bangladesh's 2006 Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), which criminalizes publishing material online that is ‘fake and obscene’ or creates a possibility of threatening "law and order." The ICT Act, and in particular Section 57, is a highly problematic piece of legislation that the Bangladeshi authorities increasingly use to stifle dissent and free expression. Due to its overly broad and vaguely formulated nature the ICT Act gives the authorities sweeping powers to target those who publish any material online which they find inconvenient. In June of this year, PEN International led a coalition of free expression and rights organisations in raising concerns with the United Nation’s Human Rights Council, on the decline in free expression in Bangladesh including through laws such as the ICT Act.
PEN International calls for all charges against Maksukul Alam, Shahadat Ullah Khan, and Pranta Palash to be dropped immediately and unconditionally.
PEN International at the UN – Oral Statement on the Situation of Concern in Bangladesh
UN Human Rights Council: PEN leads coalition statement of concern on Bangladesh
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