An editor in Bangladesh faces 175 years in prison

Wednesday 30th March 2016 06:35 EDT

Dhaka: Mahfuz Anam, the editor of Bangladesh's most popular English language newspaper, has been facing 79 legal cases - 62 for defamation and 17 for sedition. If convicted, Anam faces a prison sentence of up to 175 years. In the meantime, he is obliged to criss-cross the country for hearings in 50 of the country's 64 judicial districts, and is petitioning the high court to consolidate them. In some instances, he said, “I might have to physically appear in more than one place on the same day.”

Officials say the government is not behind the barrage of litigation, though many of the cases were filed by activists with the ruling Awami League, and at least one by an assistant public prosecutor. They were filed after Anam made an unusual public confession, expressing regret over articles that his newspaper, The Daily Star, published years ago on uncorroborated allegations of corruption against the current prime minister, Sheikh Hasina. Hasina's control over Bangladesh's political system has tightened since 2014, when the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotted parliamentary elections and the Awami League swept the polls, virtually unopposed.

With political opposition dwindling, it has become increasingly risky to publish material critical of the government. Twenty-five defamation cases are underway against Matiur Rahman, the editor of Prothom Alo, The Daily Star's sister paper and the country's second most popular Bengali newspaper.

Asif Nazrul, a law professor at the University of Dhaka, said, “These cases are a strong signal to not just Anam but to all media that if you go beyond the limits that have been set, then you too can be prosecuted for sedition.” Pressure on the two newspapers began to build last fall after Prothom Alo and The Daily Star published a report in August on the killing of five men by army troops in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, a former conflict area where the military has a large presence.

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