Monday, April 15, 2013

The government and the Sangram press: Illegal and male-fide

You don't have to be a legal expert to recognise that Bangladesh police simply have no legal authority to stop the press of the Daily Sangram (a pro-Jamaat newspaper) from publishing the Amar Desh newspaper (a pro-opposition paper).

So much for the foreign minister's various protestations to the diplomatic community about the rule of law in Bangladesh - 'As a nation, we must come out of this vicious circle to allow the rule of law to prevail in all spheres of our society,' she said on 10 April 2013. Yes indeed, foreign minister.

On Saturday night, 13 April, the police turned up at the the printing press of the Daily Sangram newspaper which had agreed to publish the Amar Desh newspaper since its own printing press had been closed down earlier by the police. At the Sangram printing press, the police arrested 19 press workers employed by Amar Desh and filed cases against the editor of Sangram newspaper, and the acting chairman of the company that owns Amar Desh, Mahmuda Begum  (who happens to be the mother of the editor, himself arrested two days earlier).

The police have said that they have done this on the basis of section 10 of the 'Printing Presses and Publications (Declaration and Registration) Act 1973'. What does section 10 state?
'If at any time after the making of a declaration under section 7, the newspaper to which the declaration relates is printed or published in a language, with a periodicity or at a place, other than the language or languages, periodicity or place shown in the declaration, the declaration shall become null and void, and any further printing and publication of the newspaper shall be unauthorised unless a fresh declaration under section 7 is made, but nothing in this section shall apply to a temporary change of the place of printing or publication for a period not exceeding thirty days at any one time, if within seventy-two hours of such temporary change the District Magistrate is informed of it in the manner prescribed.'
It is the last part of this section that is crucial. It allows a newspaper to make a 'temporary' change in its printing press as long as (a) it is for a period of not more than 30 days at any one time and (b) within 72 hours of 'the change', the district magistrate is 'informed' of it 'in the manner prescribed'

What is important to note is the following:
- there is no legal prohibition on a paper moving one's printing press 
- if a paper wants to use a different printing press it simply has to inform the district magistrate within 72 hours from the time of the 'change'. (Nb; it does not even need to get its permission)

The only uncertainty is at what point does the 'the change' take place which starts the 72 hour clock ticking. 

A common sense view would be that it would start from the first time that the newspaper starts to use a different printing press. However, even if the police were to take a very conservative view (and arguably irrational one) and decided that it started from the moment that the newspaper realised that it could not print on its existing printing press, - 72 hours had not yet passed from the time the Amar Desh press was closed till the time when the police stopped the use of the Sangram press.

In fact, I understand, thatAmar Desh newspaper says that it had already informed the District Magistrate of the change - though whether this has happened or not in the 'manner prescribed' is not known! 

But the point is, that even if they had not informed the district magistrate at all, the police had no power at all to take action to stop the printing of the newspaper.

This is an example of a total abuse of power by the police. It is unlawful, and clearly done for a male fide purpose.

The Dhaka district administrator is quoted by AFP as saying that Amar Desh doesn't 'have any declaration (authorisation) to publish the newspaper from another press."

Would it not be nice if he read the law first before arresting 19 people and filing cases against two others, one being an editor of a national daily?

Of course this is all happening in the context of the arrest on Thursday (11 April) of the editor of Amar Desh, Mahmadur Rahman - a very polarising figure in Bangladesh politics, and a difficult person to have much sympathy with after his paper used religious sentiment in such a dangerous way to define those protesting peacefully in Shahbag as 'atheists' and provoking attacks upon them from the religious right in Bangladesh politics.

But whether you like him or not, it is a very different question as to whether he should have be arrested. I will write more about this in the future, but on the charge of sedition over the publication of the Skype conversations relating to the International Crimes Tribunal, I will just refer you to what I wrote back in December when the possibility of his arrest for this offence was first muted.

And just to finish on a question about the prosecution of Rahman for the publication of the Skype conversation: if Amar Desh should be prosecuted for sedition for printing the Skype conversation - what should happen to the two men, one an acting justice, who actually had the conversation?

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