On June 7, 2022, police in the Bangladesh town of Rangamati, in the southeastern Chittagong division, arrested Fazle Elahi, editor of the privately owned newspaper Dainik Parbatto and the privately owned news website Pahar24, under the Digital Security Act, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
A Rangamati magistrate granted Elahi interim bail on June 8, pending an additional hearing at the Chittagong Cyber Tribunal, which adjudicates alleged cybercrime offenses, where he was granted permanent bail on June 14, according to a report in the Dhaka Tribune and the journalist. The next hearing in his case is scheduled for July 31, Elahi said.
Police arrested Elahi in relation to a December 3, 2020, article he published in Pahar24, which detailed alleged irregularities concerning a property rented by Nazneen Anwar, daughter of Furoza Begum Chinu, a former member of parliament with the ruling Awami League and head of the Rangamati District Women’s Awami League, according to those reports and the journalist.
On December 8, 2020, Chinu and Anwar each filed separate complaints, which CPJ reviewed, against Elahi in relation to his article, alleging that the journalist had defamed them, Elahi said.
On March 15, 2021, the Rangamati police submitted a report to a magistrate, which CPJ reviewed, stating that they investigated Elahi under sections of the Digital Security Act related to defamation and publishing offensive, false, or threatening information after receiving those complaints. The police report said it would allow the court to decide a course of action.
On June 7, 2022, the Chittagong Cyber Tribunal issued a warrant for Elahi’s arrest, which CPJ reviewed, under unspecified sections of the Digital Security Act.
Elahi was taken to Rangamati’s Kotwali police station after his June 7 arrest, he said, adding that Anwar was at the scene and demanded the officers put him in a cell when he was placed in a chair in the front office. When reached by phone by CPJ, Anwar said she had asked officers why Elahi was allowed to use his phone in custody.
Anwar told CPJ that she stands by the allegations in the complaint. Chinu did not respond to CPJ’s text message requesting comment. Kabir Hossain, officer-in-charge at the Kotwali police station, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.
In a separate case, on June 7, 2022, the Khulna Cyber Tribunal accepted a police chargesheet that had been filed on August 31, 2021, against Abu Tayeb, Khulna bureau chief for the privately owned broadcaster NTV, and Subir Rana, a reporter for the privately owned newspaper Daily Loksamaj and privately owned news website New Age, according to a copy of the chargesheet, which CPJ reviewed, and the two journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
A hearing in their case is scheduled for September 20, according to Tayeb. The chargesheet accuses the journalists of violating sections of the Digital Security Act related to the publication of offensive, false, or threatening information; defamation; and deterioration of law and order. Those offenses can carry a prison sentence between three and seven years, and a fine of between 300,000 taka (US$3,230) and 600,000 taka (US$6,460).
The chargesheet accuses Tayeb and Rana of violating the Digital Security Act with Facebook posts they each published in April 2021 accusing a local company affiliated with Talukder Abdul Khalek, mayor of the Khulna City Corporation, a municipal agency that oversees the development and maintenance of the city, of evading taxes.
Tayeb made those allegations both in a report for NTV and on his Facebook page, and Rana also published the allegations on his page, according to CPJ research, both journalists, and a screenshot of the posts, which CPJ reviewed. Tayeb told CPJ that within 24 hours after the article and Facebook post were published, Khalek called him and ordered him to remove the report and the post, and he had complied.
On April 20, Khalek filed a complaint against Tayeb and Rana and published a rejoinder in The Daily Purbanchal newspaper, which CPJ reviewed, denying the allegations and warning that legal action would be taken against those who spread the information shared in their posts.
Tayeb was detained in relation to the case from April 20 to May 10, 2021, when he was released on bail, according to CPJ documentation and the journalist. Rana was also detained from June 3 to July 7, when he was released on bail, according to the journalist and the Bangladesh High Court bail order, which CPJ reviewed.
The investigating officer in the case did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app. Khalek did not respond to CPJ’s text message requesting comment.
This content originally appeared on Committee to Protect Journalists and was authored by Erik Crouch.