Call to drop suits against Bangladeshi publisher

The Asia News Network (ANN) has demanded the immediate withdrawal of a flood of lawsuits filed against Daily Star editor and publisher Mahfuz Anam, calling them an act of harassment and intimidation of the media in Bangladesh.

In a letter addressed to Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, ANN editors expressed their concern over the summonses and urged the government to respect due process in hearing the cases.

ANN is an alliance of 22 media outlets in 19 countries in Asia, including The Daily Star. The Straits Times is also a member. Mr Anam sits on the board of directors.

"ANN sees this as an attempt to harass and intimidate the media in the South Asian country. We find this a worrying development that further challenges the media environment in Bangladesh," the editors said in their letter.

They described Mr Anam as "one of the network's pillars and his example of journalism has inspired and helped steer the alliance through its 17 years of history".

The lawsuits began arriving days after the Star editor appeared on a talk show on Feb 3 and expressed his regret over a lapse in editorial judgment in publishing some reports. The editors noted that Mr Anam "appears to be paying an undue price for it with the 75 cases that have been filed against him so far, only showing political aggression that does not serve the interest of Bangladesh".

As of Feb 18, 75 lawsuits had been filed against Mr Anam in 50 districts. Of them, 17 involve pleas to bring sedition charges against him, while the rest are defamation suits.

A court issued an arrest warrant against Mr Anam on Feb 16 on a libel suit, but revised its order and issued a summons instead. He is set to appear before that court on March 28.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2016, with the headline 'Call to drop suits against Bangladeshi publisher'. Print Edition | Subscribe