DHAKA : (AFP) – On Monday, the sole newspaper of Bangladesh’s largest opposition party ceased publication after a government suspension order was upheld, raising concerns about media freedom in the South Asian country.
Campaigners and international governments, notably the United States, have long raised concern about Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s attempts to stifle critics and what they regard as authoritarianism on the rise.
For more than three decades, the Dainik Dinkal, a broadsheet Bengali-language weekly, has been a major voice of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Hundreds of journalists and press professionals are employed.
It covers news items that are seldom covered by mainstream media, the majority of which are owned by pro-government businesses.
This includes regular arrests of BNP activists and, according to the party, hundreds of fabricated cases against its members.
According to the daily, Dhaka district officials ordered the closure on December 26, but it continued to print after filing an appeal with the Press Council, which is presided over by a senior high court judge.
“The council denied our appeal yesterday (Sunday), confirming the district magistrate’s decision to halt our publishing,” the newspaper’s managing editor, Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas, told AFP.
According to the ruling, which AFP received a copy of, the newspaper’s printing permission was revoked after the publication broke the country’s printing and publishing rules.
According to the council, the paper’s publisher, Tarique Rahman, the interim leader of the BNP, was a convicted felon who was residing overseas without turning over his post to someone else.
According to Biswas, Rahman, who is now located in London, offered his resignation and designated a new publisher, but the authorities rejected the changes.
“This closure is part of the government’s attack on dissident voices and free expression,” Biswas added.
The government made no statement on the closure on Monday.
Two Dhaka-based journalist unions claimed in a joint statement that the judgement was a “reflection of the persecution of opposing voices”.
On Monday, unions and journalists organised minor street demonstrations against the closure.
According to intelligence assessments, Hasina’s administration ordered the shutdown of 191 websites last month.
Previously, the Bangladesh government banned websites multiple times, most recently in December 2018 before of national elections.
Bangladesh was placed 162 in Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index, after Russia (155) and Afghanistan (156).
Bangladesh’s harsh Digital Security Act, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests since 2018, has raised special concern.