Bangladesh journalist charged over high food cost article

DHAKA – Bangladesh police on Wednesday (29) charged a reporter from a leading newspaper for producing “false news” after an article on high food prices went viral, stoking fears about media freedom.

The draconian Digital Security Act under which Shamsuzzaman Shams was charged has been widely used by the government to muzzle journalists and critics, rights groups say.

Shams’s newspaper Prothom Alo said he was picked up from his home in the industrial town of Savar just outside Dhaka at around 4:00 a.m. (2200 GMT) by plainclothes police.

Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan confirmed that the reporter was questioned by police for a “false story” published at the weekend.

“A case has been filed against him,” the minister said, adding that Shams would be released from custody, but could be arrested again over the charges.

The reporter was charged with “smearing the image of the government with a false news” and for raising questions on the achievements of Bangladesh, under the Digital Security Act, according to a copy of the case file obtained by AFP.

The Prothom Alo article was published on Sunday (26) and included quotes from ordinary people talking about their lives on the occasion of Bangladesh’s Independence Day.

“What is the use of this freedom if we can’t afford rice,” one labourer was quoted as saying.

Like in other poorer nations, the cost of food has soared in Bangladesh since the middle of last year following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The taka has fallen sharply against the US dollar.

According to a local think tank, nearly 3,000 people have been charged under the Digital Security Act since it was enacted in 2018, including around 280 journalists.

This has stoked concerns that under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in power since 2009, the South Asian nation of 170 million people is becoming increasingly authoritarian.

Reporters Without Borders ranked Bangladesh 162 of 180 countries in its 2022 World Press Freedom Index. It is ranked below Russia (155) and Afghanistan (156).

In recent months, Bangladesh’s dwindling number of independent media and journalists have come under increasing attacks by the government and Hasina’s ruling party.

The authorities shut down the lone opposition mouthpiece last month, saying it violated the country’s press laws.

At least 10 journalists were beaten up by police while covering a disputed election of Supreme Court lawyers in Dhaka.

Last week, a brother of an Al Jazeera investigative journalist who is based in London was brutally beaten up, allegedly by men from the ruling party.

– Agence France-Presse



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