Bangladesh newspaper head convicted for criticising judge

Bangladeshi editor and newspaper publisher Atiqullah Khan Masud was convicted of contempt of court and fined for criticising a judge.
Bangladeshi editor and newspaper publisher Atiqullah Khan Masud was convicted of contempt of court and fined for criticising a judge.PHOTO: AFP

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladesh's top court on Thursday convicted a publisher of a leading newspaper of contempt of court for criticising a judge, in the latest case against the country's media.

Atiqullah Khan Masud and his deputy were fined taka 10,000 (S$175) each for the article criticising the unnamed judge for speaking with the family of an opposition leader appealing against his death sentence for war crimes.

"Freedom of speech does not necessarily mean talking without any bridle," Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters after the Supreme Court's ruling.

"There are many ways of practising responsible journalism that wouldn't hurt the court but would convey the message," he said.

The article was published in July, days before a panel of four judges dismissed Salauddin Quader Chowdhury's appeal against the death sentence for crimes committed during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence.

In the article, Bengali national daily newspaper Janakantha questioned whether it was ethical or common practise for judges to speak with appellants' families outside of court.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party has claimed Chowdhury's original conviction by a tribunal was influenced by the government and was politically motivated.

In a separate court on Thursday, the editor of a pro-opposition newspaper was sentenced to three years in jail for failing to declare his assets in what his supporters said was an attempt to halt a critic of the government.

The cases come after an award-wining British journalist was found guilty of contempt of court in December for questioning the official death toll of three million in the 1971 war.

That case was seen as a test of the country's commitment to free speech after the reporter cast doubt on the official version of one of the most contentious issues in Bangladesh's short history.