Dhaka: Britain and the United States on Thursday
expressed concern at the closure of an opposition mouthpiece
and arrest of its editor, even as rights groups and
journalists described the Bangladesh government`s move as an
attack on media freedom.
"We are very concerned at the recent closure of the media
outlets..This raises questions of media freedom in Bangladesh,
which is vital for a functional and sustainable democracy," a
spokesperson of British High Commission in Dhaka said on the
proscription of `Amar Desh` newspaper and arrest of its acting
editor, Mahmudur Rahman.
In a statement, a US embassy spokesman also expressed
concern at the development.
"We are following the situation closely" after the
closing down of the mouthpiece of former prime minister
Khaleda Zia`s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and
subsequent arrest of Rahman, he said.
"The United States is committed to freedom the press and
freedom of expression as internationally recognised rights and
foundations of democracy," the US official said.
The reactions came as international media watchdog,
Reporters Without Borders, joined the protests by journalist
unions and rights groups issuing a statement that "the Awami
League government (of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina) is clearly
unable to tolerate criticism from this opposition newspaper".
Police had yesterday arrested Rahman and later sent him
to jail on a court order on a "fraudulence" charge, following
a night long siege at the newspaper office in Dhaka after the
Dhaka`s administrative chief and magistrate ordered
proscription of the `Amar Desh`.
"The night-time raid by armed police on the daily`s
headquarters and the use of force to arrest editor Mahmudur
Rahman are unworthy of a government that claims to respect the
rule of law," the Reporters Without Borders statement read.
The pro-Awami League journalist union, in a statement
called the proscription of the newspaper a "wrong" decision
and demanded the restoration of the newspaper to ensure the
freedom of expression.
The pro-opposition journalist union yesterday staged
protests demanding the reopening of the newspaper.
BNP, which joined the budget session of Parliament
yesterday after a protracted boycott, staged walkout in the
House twice protesting Desh`s closure.
However, Information minister Abul Kalam Azad told the
Parliament, "It was not the government but the deputy
commissioner of Dhaka" who had closed the newspaper for
alleged violation of the publication law.
"The deputy commissioner, be it of Sherpur or Dhaka, is
the authority to give declaration for newspapers.
The deputy commissioner can cancel the publication in
case of any violation of the law," he said.
Azad was supplemented today by local government minister
and ruling Awami League`s general secretary Syed Ashraful
Islam who said Rahman was arrested in a case filed by the
daily`s publisher while the government has not shut down the
media outlet either.
Dhaka`s district magistrate and deputy commissioner
Mohibul Haque earlier said he cancelled the declaration of the
newspaper as "it has no publisher" as the previous publisher
Hasmat Ali, in writing, notified him two months ago that "he
is no longer the publisher of the newspaper".
But the Desh was being published with Ali`s name as the
publisher of the newspaper in the printer`s line.
The closure of the newspaper came a month after a
television channel, owned by an opposition stalwart, was
closed on a High Court order for want of legal papers.