Death threats and reprisals against two Bengali-language dailies

Reporters Without Borders condemns the threats that have been made against two Bengali-language dailies in the past three days. An Islamist group has accused Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman of blasphemy, while Dainik Shamokal editor Golam Sarwar has been threatened with death if he continues to cover an opposition party leader’s recent disappearance.

“We urge the government and judicial authorities to guarantee the safety and independence of media and journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “An investigation must be carried out to identify the person responsible for the death threat to Sarwar, and the justice system must not tolerate the use of blasphemy accusations for political purposes.

“The blasphemy law currently in effect is blocking the full development of freedom of information and expression. As long as press offences are criminalized, journalists and news media will continue to be vulnerable to the judicial actions that are brought against them and will be forced, sometimes under threat, to censor themselves.”

Fazlul Huq Amini, the head of the Islami Ain Bastobayon Committee (Islamic Constitution Application Committee), yesterday accused Prothom Alo of promoting anti-Islamic views and of “conspiring against Muslims.”

Threatening legal action against the newspaper, the group said it should be closed and banned, and accused its editor, Rahman, of involvement in a plot against Islam and national sovereignty. Prothom Alo is often accused of blasphemy and many legal actions gave been brought against its editor in the past.

The death threat against Sarwar was made in an anonymous phone call to Dainik Shamokal’s headquarters on 23 April. The caller objected to its coverage of the disappearance of Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Ilias Ali, who is believed to have been kidnapped on 17 April. He also told the newspaper to stop covering the negotiations taking place between the government and opposition with the aim of finding Ali.

Fearing for his life, Sarwar filed a complaint with the police. The newspaper also reported the threats that Sarwar and his staff have received to the interior minister, the police inspector general, the head of the Dhaka metropolitan police and other police officials.