Friday, May 18, 2007

The only Bangladeshi journalist facing sedition, treason and blasphemy charges

Dhaka’s newspapers on May 18, 2007 reported that Criminal Investigation Department (CID) CID Inspector Masud Karim on Thursday (May 17) submitted probe report discharging writer-columnist Shahriar Kabir, Saleem Samad (now on political asylum in Canada), Zaiba Naz Malik (British journalist), Leopoldo Bruno Sorrentino (Italian journalist), Pricilla Raj (interpreter for the foreign journalists) and Tofael Ahmed (freelance journalist). The two foreign journalists belong to Britain’s private television Channel-4. In the charge sheet, the Investigation Officer mentioned that the charges brought against them were not primarily proved and he prayed for discharging them from the charge of sedition. The court will decide on May 22 whether the final report will be accepted or not, court sources said.

On November 25, 2002, police arrested the two Channel 4 journalists on sedition charges while they were crossing into India from Bangladesh through Benapole border in Jessore.
The two foreign journalists came to Bangladesh to film a current affairs program for Channel 4 about the reported repression on Hindu minorities in Bangladesh. During their arrest at the Benapole border, customs authorities seized films and other documents from them, which were "intended for tarnishing the image of Bangladesh".

Shahriar Kabir, Pricilla Raj, Saleem Samad and others were arrested on charge of assisting the Channel 4 journalists. They were later granted bail from different courts on different dates.

A sedition case was filed with Motijheel Police Station on November 15, 2002 against the two foreign journalists, Pricilla and Saleem Samad. On December 11, 2002, the government had deported two journalists -- Zaiba Naz Malik and Leopoldo Bruno Sorrentino -- following their undertaking that they would not broadcast any of the material collected from the country.

After dropping of the case against journalist Shahriar Kabir, Saleem Samad and others, the only journalist in Bangladesh facing false sedition, treason and blasphemy charges is Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and publisher of Weekly Blitz, who was arrested on November 29, 2003 from Zia International Airport en route to attend a Peace Conference in Tel Aviv (Israel). It may be mentioned here that, when the previous government of BNP + Islamist Coalitions granted bail to Mr. Shahriar Kabir and others, even before the investigation was finished, they did not grant bail to Shoaib Choudhury, even after a Charge Sheet was filed. The previous government even stopped him from attending his mother’s funeral that died on August 9, 2004. Moreover, investigation of the case against the mentioned Bangladeshi and foreign journalists took around five years, while, in Shoaib’s case, the report was submitted simply in One year.

It may be mentioned here that, US Congress passed a Resolution (No. 64) demanding dropping of the false charge of Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury. European Parliament also passe a similar bill.

But, despite such internal supports, government in Bangladesh is yet to show any positive sign of dropping the charge. The next date of hearing of the case is fixed for June 28.