TDN World Desk: Hasina government that has newly assumed power for the fourth consecutive term in Bangladesh arrested one journalist and another was on the run Wednesday for publishing “false information” about voting irregularities in an election won by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, police said.
According to news agency AFP, Hedayet Hossain Mollah, who works for the Dhaka Tribune newspaper, was detained Tuesday evening under a controversial digital security law which rights groups say gives authorities broad powers to stifle dissent.
Mollah was arrested in the southern Khulna region 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.
If convicted Mollah could face up to 14 years in jail under a draconian anti-press law that was toughed by Hasina last year.
The police chief said another journalist, Rashedul Islam of the Daily Manabzamin, was wanted for questioning after a local government administrator filed a case against the two under the The controversial law.
Reporters Without Border (RSF), an Internationally recognized reporters’ organization, issued a statement condemning Hasina government for “Serious press freedom violations” that marred Bangladesh’s election.
The organization also called on to acquit the journalists from any legal trials.
“We call on the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately drop the charges against these two journalists,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Their only crime was to do their job to monitor the polling, as any journalist should in a functioning democracy. The repeated press freedom violations accompanying these elections have ended up undermining the credibility of the results,” he added.
Hasina, 71, is accused of creeping authoritarianism, including muzzling the media and jailing prominent journalists such as Shahidul Alam, an award-winning photographer, who spent four months in prison recently.
As examples of brutal crackdown on media by the existing government in Bangladesh, the statement included few cases of physical attacks on media persons.
As per the RSF report, Daily Star photographer Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo was attacked by ruling party activists while taking photos of a Dhaka polling station. Kafi Kamal, a reporter for the Manab Zamin newspaper, had to be hospitalized after a similar attack in Dhaka. Around 20 activists attacked Jubair Rakesh of the daily Manob Kantho, smashing his camera. The report took note of several other cases where few media were denied access to polling stations despite having accreditation from the electoral commission. Attack on a broadcasting news media was also mentioned in this report.
Bangladesh is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2018. The rank is even worse than its neighbouring country like Myanmar (137) and India (138).
Hasina won 98 percent of seats in Sunday’s election which opposition politicians claim was rigged by the ruling Awami League to deliver her a record fourth term as Bangladesh’s leader.
Thousands of opposition activists were arrested during the campaign while voters reported intimidation at polling stations on election day which was overshadowed by the deaths of at least 17 people in clashes between rival supporters.
On Tuesday, the European Union urged authorities in Bangladesh to probe violence and obstacles to voting that the EU said had “tainted” the election.
The United States also expressed concern about “credible reports of harassment, intimidation and violence”.
A State Department statement urged the country’s Election Commission to “work constructively with all sides to address claims of irregularities”.
Opposition parties won only six seats and have demanded a new election under a neutral caretaker government.
Hasina has denied allegations of vote-rigging and rejected calls for an election re-run.