Bangladeshi editor 'went through hell' over unverified reports

A decade ago, Mr Mahfuz Anam, the editor of Bangladesh's leading English-language newspaper The Daily Star, caved in to demands to publish unsubstantiated reports against political rivals of the interim government.

That lapse in judgment came back to haunt him last year, when he confessed on a talk show that he regretted publishing stories accusing the country's current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of corruption.

These, he said, were based on unverified information from officials involved with the military-backed caretaker government that ruled Bangladesh between 2007 and 2008, who pressured him into running stories to further their agenda.

Mr Anam, who was in Singapore for last week's forum, found himself facing more than 70 defamation and sedition cases in different courts all over Bangladesh.

Most of them were filed by Ms Hasina's supporters from the ruling Awami League, accusing Mr Anam of publishing false and distorted information.

Ms Hasina herself accused him of running "false news" in his paper, calling for him to step down.

Mr Anam recalled: "I had to go through hell. Finally, it was the High Court that gave the stay order.

"That's how I'm here today."

He noted that most papers in Bangladesh had been cowed into peddling the same stories then, based on unchecked reports fed to them by the caretaker government.

Mr Anam also highlighted how false information incited violence and raised communal tensions in Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Muslim rioters mobbed Buddhist villages in Bangladesh five years ago, setting fire to homes and temples, and smashing Buddha statues.

The violence was sparked by claims that a Buddhist youth had burned a Quran and uploaded a photo of it on Facebook.

Police later said he had only been tagged in the photo. He had not destroyed a Quran himself, and was not the person who posted the picture.

Mr Anam said: "This is a very serious concern of societies that are multiracial and multi-religious. We have serious concerns about the use of social media to create unrest."

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 25, 2017, with the headline 'Bangladeshi editor 'went through hell' over unverified reports'. Print Edition | Subscribe