Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Nazmul Huda, a reporter who was arrested on 24 December 2016 because of his coverage of a strike by garment workers in Ashulia, the Dhaka suburb where Bangladesh’s biggest garment factories are located.
The police accuse Huda, who works for Bangla Daily and Ekushey TV (ETV), a privately-owned satellite TV service, of reporting false information and encouraging the strike that began in mid-December in factories that produce clothes for leading international retail chains such as Gap, Zara and H&M.
Huda’s computer and mobile phone were seized at the time of his arrest.
He distinguished himself in 2013 by being the only reporter to draw attention to structural problems in the Rana Plaza building in Dhaka before it collapsed, killing hundreds of garment workers and others.
A Dhaka police officer told Agence France-Presse that Huda is also accused of “destabilizing the government” and of meeting secretly with seven trade union leaders, who have also been arrested.
The authorities say he was arrested under section 57 of the Information, Communication & Technology Act (ICT Act), which states that deliberately publishing material in electronic form that “causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person, or causes to hurt religious belief” is punishable by seven to 14 years in prison.
RSF called for the complete repeal of the ICT Act in September 2013 on the grounds that it “enables the government to gag netizens and to arrest and detain them without legitimate grounds.” The amendments adopted in August 2013 “permit even more arbitrary behaviour by the police and judicial authorities towards news providers,” RSF said at the time.
Harun Ur Rashid, local correspondant for Deutsche Welle (DW) and former head of programming at ETV, said Huda was the only journalist to have filmed the cracks in the support pillars of the Rana Plaza, a building that housed many garment factories. Huda’s report was broadcast shortly before the building collapsed in April 2013, with a toll of 1,138 dead and more than 2,000 injured.
Rashid praised the “unparalleled courage” of Huda, who reportedly received many death threats after the arrest of the Rana Plaza’s owner, and said he deserved to be recognized for his work instead of “being treated like this by the authorities.”
Two days before Huda’s arrest, the powerful Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association decided to close 55 factories in Ashulia on the grounds that they feared acts of vandalism. The unions said the closures were designed to put pressure on employees and break their strike for more pay.
Bangladesh is ranked 144th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.