A Bangladesh court Thursday issued an arrest warrant for the country’s most respected independent newspaper editor after a student was killed at an event organized by a sister publication.
Matiur Rahman, editor of the Prothom Alo daily, is an outspoken champion of freedom of expression in a country where rights groups say that independent voices are under severe threat.
He and nine others have been charged with causing death by negligence after a 14-year-old boy was fatally electrocuted in November at an event organized by a magazine published by Prothom Alo’s owner.
Matiur Rahman, editor of Bangladesh’s Prothom Alo daily, and nine others have been charged with causing death by negligence after a 14-year-old boy was fatally electrocuted in November at an event organized by a sister publication.
Anisul Hoque, a leading novelist and associate editor of the Bengali-language newspaper, was among those charged.
Rahman, 76, already faces at least 55 cases for defamation and hurting religious sentiments but this is the first time he has been issued with an arrest warrant.
The dozens of cases are part of a larger, organized assault on independent media in Bangladesh dating back several years, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in 2016 when they were filed.
Since that year, major advertisers including multinational companies have been allegedly ordered by a security agency not to place advertisements in the daily, resulting in revenue losses of tens of millions of dollars.
There was no immediate comment from Rahman or the newspaper.
Rights groups have accused the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of cracking down on dissent through newly enacted internet laws that experts say would make investigative journalism almost impossible.
In its annual report published on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said journalists, activists, students, and other critics have self-censored for fear of arrest, violent attacks by ruling party supporters, or threats from authorities, while the government censored expression online.
The government has also blocked dozens of websites in recent years including several top news portals, such as English website of Al Jazeera, over reports critical of influential Bangladesh ministers.
Meanwhile, in another case featuring “hurting of religious sentiments,” hundreds of parents picketed a top Bangladesh school and blocked a major road in the capital to protest against a decision to make Islamic dress optional for students.
Some 200-300 parents held hands and blocked a road in front of an Ideal School and College campus in Dhaka’s Banasree neighbourhood on Wednesday, said local police chief Abdul Kuddus.
Ideal is one of the country’s best private school chains, with branches in several middle-class neighbourhoods. Its students regularly top nationwide exam tables.
Parents said the school this year dropped a requirement for boys to wear Islamic skull caps and for girls to wear an “orna,” a loose scarf-like shawl that covers the chest.
“It has been a tradition of this school since 1973 and we don’t have any problem with it,” said Tofazzal Hossain, a parent.
“Why did the authorities suddenly take such an anti-Islamic decision without discussing it with us?”
College principal Shahan Ara Begum said neither item of clothing had been banned, but rather made optional.
She said also that Muslim traditions should not be forced on pupils belonging to other faiths.
Although overwhelming Muslim, Bangladesh is officially secular.
Thousands of people took to social media to criticize the school’s new dress code.
“How would the female students go in front of their male teachers without the orna?” Facebook user Shipon Ahmed wrote.
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