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Another assault on media

THE closure of the Inqilab and arrest of four members of the Bangla daily’s staff Thursday evening over the publication of a report on the rumoured participation of Indian soldiers in the pre-election operation of the joint forces that are composed of the police, the Rapid Action Battalion and the Border Guard Bangladesh in Satkhira amounts to an assault on the media, and betrays yet again the apparently inherent intolerance of the Awami League-led ruling elite to anything even remotely critical of their attitude and actions. According to a report published in New Age on Friday, 40-45 members of the Detective Branch cordoned off the office, took journalists out of the newsroom and interrogated them, and arrested four of them. The police also filed a case under the Information and Communications Technology Act against the editor, publisher, chief news editor and a staff reporter of the daily, apparently on charge of a ‘false and fabricated report’ in its print and online versions.
It is worth noting that the Inqilab report in question refers to a couple of supposedly leaked documents — a fax message and an e-mail that seemingly contained ‘correspondence between the foreign ministry and the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi — anonymously circulated on social networking sites. As the content of these documents has serious sovereignty implication for Bangladesh, the daily did talk to the foreign ministry for its veracity and also some defence and international relations experts for suggestions as to how the government should react. As such, it could at best be characterised as a report on a ‘false and fabricated report’ that has been making its round in the cyberspace and private parlours for a while now. Moreover, the report bears no indication that the paper subscribes to the rumour. Thus, the paper can be said to have simply lived up to its responsibility of informing the public and even cautioning the government about the rumour.
However, not surprisingly, the government, instead of coming out with a public dismissal of the so-called leaked documents, seems to have chosen to shoot the messenger, so to speak. It is worth noting that the AL-led ruling elite, during its previous stint in power between 2009 and 2013, consistently employed legal and extra-legal measures to persecute sections of the news media that had been critical of their policies and performances. The closures of the Bangla daily on April 11, along with the arrest of its acting editor, and the private television channel Diganta on May 5, 2013 bear testimony to this effect. Notably still, the Inqilab had more or less been sympathetic to, if not supportive of, the previous AL-led government and became critical of the ruling alliance in the run up to farcical January 5 elections and afterward.
Either way, the closure of the Inqilab is open to be construed as the government’s apparently inherent intolerance of critical views having yet again getting better of its good senses. Moreover, it risks being perceived as the government trying to put under wraps the core of contention — if the rumour over participation of Indian troops in the joint forces operation in Satkhira is just that, a rumour. Hence, it is imperative that the government should come up with an unequivocal statement immediately and, meanwhile, withdraw the restriction on the Inqilab and release the arrested members on its staff.

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