Friday, February 19, 2016

Four factual blunders by Sajeeb Wazed in new facebook post

Sajeeb Wazed, Bangladesh's prime minister's son has made a second facebook post in support of legal action against the editor of Bangladesh's most popular English language newspaper, The Daily Star - who now face 58 criminal defamation cases and 17 sedition cases all round the country.

Wazed's new Facebook post however contains four significant factual errors (totally misunderstanding Bangladesh's legal system, and the role of the media) which undercuts his whole argument. In fact his own logic suggests that he should be seeking the removal of all the criminal cases against the Daily Star editor.  Lets see whether he does this in his next comment, which no doubt is coming any day soon. This post also raises four additional queries about Wazed's position on this issue.


1. The cases are not civil, they are criminal

He says:
"Several of our “civil society” and newspaper editors are criticizing the civil defamation lawsuits filed against Mahfuz Anam following his admission of running a false smear campaign against my mother. .... The cases are all civil in nature, claiming damages and monetary compensation."
In fact all the defamation cases against Mahfuz Anam are criminal in nature. They are not civil. The cases are lodged in the magistrates court and, if they are about defamation, involve a criminal offence under section 499 of the Penal Code and each offence lodged allows a sentence of imprisonment of upto 2 years imprisonment. (In fact, the claims for compensation - which are part of the cases - have no basis since the magistrate court has no jurisdiction; the plaintiff's have to go to a civil court if they wish to seek compensation.)

Since, Wazed in his post seems to accept that only civil actions are justified, he should support the ending of these criminal proceedings immediately

2. Anam has not admitted to publishing a 'series of false stories against my mother'

The Daily Star editor has admitted to publishing uncorroborated stories from anonymous DGFI sources. He has (as far as I am aware) not commented on the truth of the stories. The fact that a story is 'uncorroborated' does not mean it is false - what it means is that there is not enough evidence to support its publication by a newspaper. As to whether the stories are themselves true or not - that is a different matter, and depends upon what the investigation has uncovered.

3. It was not 'as a consequence of his actions' that Sheikh Hasina had to spend 11 months in prison.

The publication of a number of articles in the Daily Star based upon DGFI information is not the reason for Sheikh Hasina spending time in prison. The publication of the article(s) did not lead to the arrest of Hasina. If Wazed wants to blame people for his mother's imprisonment, then here is the list of people he should blame: the businessmen and politicians who made the allegations against her; the DGFI and police officials who investigated the allegations; the police officer who wrote the First Information Report; the public prosecutor who sought a warrant of arrest/summons to the court; and finally the magistrate who issued the summons/permitted the warrant.

Those are the people whom Wazed should blame. Not the editor of the a newspaper who published the allegations which were told to it by law enforcement officials.

Had the Daily Star conducted an investigation on its own initiative and published the results in the newspaper, and these subsequently were investigated by the law enforcement authorities and this then resulted in Sheikh Hasina going to prison - then perhaps the Daily Star could take some blame/claim for it. But even that situation, it is the decision of the police, prosecutors, and magistrates that are much more significant.

It is also perhaps important to note that Sheikh Hasina was not sent to an ordinary jail, but was detained in parliament buildings.*

4. What is going on in Bangladesh does not happen in 'in all countries with a modern legal system'

Far from it. First of all not many countries have criminal defamation. Secondly, even in countries with criminal defamation, it is certainly not permitted for 58 separate individuals, who are not the ones allegedly defamed, to file separate criminal defamation cases in relation to the same allegation. Thirdly, what happens in 'all countries with a modern legal system' is that only the person who alleges defamation - in this case, Sheikh Hasina - makes a claim in a civil court.

As Wazed himself says: 'The only recourse that politicians and famous personalities have is civil law by claiming damages' - but in Bangladesh this is not what is happening. What is happening is that 58 separate Awami League activists are filing separate criminal cases in different parts of the country involving the same criminal allegation. I doubt there are few places in the world where such a thing happens.

It should be noted that this is what Pen International recently stated about criminal defamation in Bangladesh:
"PEN International holds that criminal defamation laws are pernicious and widely used by those in positions of power to silence critics. Such laws – and the disproportionate penalties that they introduce – have a chilling effect on writers and journalists who uncover corruption, malfeasance and abuse of power and who are conscious of the possibility of serving lengthy prison sentences and the possibility of being left with a criminal record. The result is the stifling of reporting and public debate and difficulty in holding power to account. PEN calls on the Bangladeshi authorities to repeal its criminal defamation legislation."


1. What about the sedition cases?

It is notable that Wazed does not mention or seek to defend the 17 sedition cases lodged against Mahfuz. Is this because he appreciates that there is simply no basis to the allegations, and the law of sedition does not apply to these facts at all? Since his Facebook post suggests that only civil actions are justified, then he should support the courts immediately stopping proceedings in these cases.

2. Why does Sheikh Hasina not file a case?

If Wazed feels that his mother has been defamed - why does he not persuade her to file a civil defamation case against Anam, instead of supporting all the 71 people who have no direct relevance to the alleged defamation to file criminal cases?

3.  How to seek accountability of the media

Wazed says: 'So I would like to ask, is the media immune from any liability whatsoever?' The answer of course should be 'No'. But media accountability does not come through the filing of 58 criminal defamation cases and 17 sedition cases around the country. This is media harassment and intimidation.

If the son of the prime minister wants media accountability, then the prime minister should, as mentioned above, file a civil claim of defamation, if she considers that appropriate to do so. And all the criminal cases should be brought to an end.

4. Why the focus on the Daily Star?

If Wazed is concerned about the media publishing uncorroborated reports about his mother's alleged corruption, why is he only concerned about The Daily Star - when so many other newspaper published similar reports?


* Correction: It was earlier incorrectly stated that it was house imprisonment.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your excellent coverage of this sorry episode David - keep it up!