06/08/2010, 00.00
BANGLADESH

Dhaka: Facebook accessible again but press freedom still under threat

by William Gomes
The government lifts ban on social network, which it blocked on 29 May, following the removal of Muhammad cartoons. Press freedom is in a critical state in the country. Police and secret services shut down national newspaper Daily Amar Desh, jailing editor, publisher and a few journalists.
Dhaka (AsiaNews) – Facebook is again accessible in Bangladesh after “offensive” cartoons were removed. The famous online social network was blocked on 29 May after the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad was deemed offensive to the religious sentiments of the Muslim majority of the population. In Bangladesh, Muslims represent 90 per cent of the population.

In the meantime, media freedom remains in a critical state. On 1 June, the government shut down a national daily newspaper, the Daily Amar Desh.

Heavily armed police and intelligence officials burst into the newspaper’s offices, sealed off its newsroom, and stopped the printing presses after they had began their run.

The next day, the authorities arrested the newspaper’s acting editor Mahmudur Rahman with a few of his colleagues as well as its publisher, Hashmat Ali.

Activists with the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said that the National Security Intelligence acted without an arrest warrant or a detention order.

Mr Hashmat’s family told AsiaNews that in prison he had to sign blank sheets, later filled in by the secret services.

Hashmat was forced to resign as Daily Amar Desh publisher and sign defamatory statements about the editor, Mahmudur Rahman.

Bangladesh’s Information Minister Abul Kalam Azad told AsiaNews that the decision to close the newspaper did not come from the government but from the Office of the Deputy Commissioner of Dhaka

For human rights activists, the government’s decision to wash its hands of the affair claiming non-involvement is laughable since this is not an isolated incident, but rather the latest in a series of negative episodes that have occurred over time. In fact, the government has already shut down two private broadcasters and a number of newspapers.

AHRC called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to intervene.

Accusing the government of jeopardising the democratic process, it demanded the immediate release of imprisoned journalists and the reopening of publications it closed down.

It also called on the authorities to launch credible probes into the abuses that have occurred so far.

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