Police in Bangladesh’s southern city of Barisal should immediately drop all charges against journalist Mamunur Rashid Nomani and allow him to report without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Nomani, chief news editor of the privately owned newspaper The Daily Shahnama and editor of the Barisal Khabar news website, is due in court on April 4 to face charges against him and two others under two sections of the Digital Security Act stemming from a 2020 case, according to the journalist, who spoke with CPJ by phone, and a copy of the chargesheet reviewed by CPJ.
The charges stem from a complaint alleging that Nomani and two of his friends secretly filmed a local mayor and his family. Nomani told CPJ that he denies the allegations.
“It is absurd that Bangladesh authorities have charged journalist Mamunur Rashid Nomani under the draconian Digital Security Act in a years-old case without any concrete evidence,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must immediately withdraw the charges against Nomani and cease harassing journalists under the Digital Security Act, which has repeatedly been used to muzzle the press.”
The chargesheet alleges that Nomani and his friends violated sections of the Digital Security Act pertaining to the unauthorized collection of personal information and holding or transferring data illegally.
Police opened an investigation into the three on September 13, 2020, following a complaint by Syed Ahmed Manna, a local official with the ruling Awami League party. Nomani was detained in relation to the case for 17 days in September 2020.
Manna accused the three of secretly filming Serniabat Sadiq Abdullah, mayor of the Barisal City Corporation and general secretary of the Awami League’s Barisal branch, along with Abdullah’s wife and children.
Authorities formally charged Nomani in July 2022 but did not inform the journalist, he said, adding that a clerk at the Barisal Cyber Tribunal informed him about the charges when he applied to extend his interim bail in late December 2022.
In a forensic report dated January 25, 2021, which CPJ reviewed, the Dhaka police criminal investigation department stated it was unable to conclude whether Nomani’s phone was used to film the mayor. In January, Nomani applied for the case to be discharged, citing that report, he said. Nomani said his application will be heard at the April 4 court hearing.
Nomani denied the allegations, claiming that he and his friends greeted Abdullah that night but the mayor and his associates confiscated their phones, severely beat the journalist, and submerged him in a river for several minutes in retaliation for his reporting on the Barisal City Corporation’s alleged lack of action to address flooding in the city.
The two offenses cited in the chargesheet can each carry a maximum prison sentence of five years and a fine of 500,000 to 1,000,000 taka (US$4,674 to $9,348).
CPJ contacted Manna and Abdullah via messaging app, and the Awami League via email, but did not receive any replies. Anwar Hossain, officer-in-charge of the Kotwali police station, and Roy Niyati, a Dhaka police spokesperson, did not respond to CPJ’s requests for comment sent via messaging app.
CPJ has repeatedly documented Bangladesh’s use of the Digital Security Act against journalists in retaliation for their work, and has called on authorities to repeal the law unless it can be promptly amended in line with international human rights standards.