Last week Police raided vernacular Daily Amar Desh, arrested its editor along with some senior journalists, locked up the office and the press that publishes the newspaper. Police cited some procedural flaws as reason for closing down the newspaper. Any reasonable reader will understand, if there was any procedural flaw it was government’s for not processing the application to change the publisher in reasonable time. Several media personnel and observers have stated that there was no flaw on Amardesh’s side and this was confirmed by summery dismissal of this government decision by the high court.

However although the newspaper is being republished now under high court order, there is fear among its journalists that government is trying to force a change of ownership and turn it into a meek pro government mouthpiece. As a part of the strategy, the editor and owner of the newspaper remains under police custody. District level judicial courts have allowed the government to take Mr Rahman away from Dhaka’s central Jail to undisclosed location for questioning. This kind of arrangement is known as ‘remand’ in Bangladesh. Political leaders belonging to all parties have confirmed in the past that remand means state conducted torture. It is very clear that if police has to ask Mr Rahman any question they can do it as much as they want to do it Dhaka central jail. The massive structure has facilities to conduct such interrogation. But the lower court judges, clearly under pressure, allowed the police to take him to an undisclosed location.

And Mr Rahman has confirmed the tortures on him while he was produced before court before a second phase of his total 12 days remand began. Mr Rahman, told the court under oath that he was taken to a place in Dhaka Military Garrison where he was first undressed. Then few unidentified person started beating him till he became unconscious. He told the court that no relevant question was ever asked to him. The partisan lawyer working on behalf of the government, when asked by media about the torture, replied that as Mr Rahman was able to walk and talk in the court, proving that it meant he was not tortured!

Mr Mahmudur Rahman’s plight confirms what the political observers in Bangladesh was fearing over the last year. Current Bangladesh government has a very intolerant attitude towards media. After several very bold reporting of corruption and double standard by this government was published in Daily Amardesh, most veteran political analysts in Bangladesh knew that this Awami League government will not tolerate this sort of reporting. Mr Shafiq Rehman is a legendary journalists, whose weekly, Jaijaidin, was banned twice by the military dictator Ershad in 80s, and who had to flee the country for fear of persecution by the dictator. He recently wrote, after the Amar Desh event, that he learnt that this government had two priorities; evicting opposition leader Khaleda Zia from her home and arresting editor Mr Mahmudur Rahman for daring to expose high level corruption in the government.

From the acts of shutting down TV channels for showing footage of rigging in bye election, closing down newspaper for publishing government documents accusing Prime Minister’s son of corruption and putting a tight gag on TV talk shows, it is clear that this elected government has decided to run a rule of fear and suppression. This is very worrisome. But more worrisome is the fact that the government started all this within only 18 months of its rule. That means worse days await Bangladesh in the upcoming 3 1/2 years.

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