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In the Context of Suit against Mahfuz Anam and Freedom of Newspaper

In the Context of Suit against Mahfuz Anam and Freedom of Newspaper

Haider Akbar Khan Rano – 

The number of cases filed against The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam now stands at 77 as of now. But these are not instituted at one place rather in several districts. The subject matter of the suits is the same. Two types of accusation have been brought about. In some cases the allegation is of defamation and in some others the complaint is of treason. What would be the verdict in the suit, I dont know because that is in the jurisdiction of the court. As because the subject matter of the suits is the same, different courts would not give different judgments. In that case I dont understand what the necessity of the second case was after the first one was instituted. It is, as if, rage of filing cases started with competition. The compensation that has been demanded totals over 82 thousand crores of taka. It seems to be an unbelievable madness. On 17 February poet, writer and pre-eminent journalist Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury in an article in The Daily Janakantha page wrote that this sort of event If it would take place in Britain or in any country of Europe, it would be entitled as witch hunting there.

Some of the courts have ordered Mahfuz Anam to physically appear. I have no right to make any comment on the actions of the court even and I have no desire to do so. But please think once that if one has to move round so many districts like a rotating wheel, what situation stands then?

Before the delivery of judgment punishment has been received. Following the crowd, filing suits at so many places is rather a big sort of harassment. This has been remarked by the distinguished figures (among them are two universally revered  Professor Emeritus Anisuzzaman and Sirajul Islam Chowdhury), International Journalist Federation, ASAK, Editors Council and PEN (all international organization for literature and expression of opinion). All of them expressed concern and have conceived that this sort of cases is antagonistic to independent journalism.

The source of the event is an utterance of Mahfuz Anam in a private TV channel on 4th February last. He made a candid confession that he had committed a wrong in publishing the information in his newspaper without verification including those of false charges against Sheikh Hasina that were supplied by special intelligence agency during the caretaker government of 2007-08. He has spoken this only, which includes naive utterance of confession. None pressed him to confess. Voluntarily he told this. He could rather be acclaimed for the matter. But we have noticed inversely that he has mistaken by saying that he had mistaken. A group of people got them engaged against him. There started suits after suits. Question rather be raised on the purpose of the case filers  Firstly, what is the use of filing of more suits on the same issue after the institution of two cases over defamation and sedition. I mentioned this matter at the outset of this writing. Secondly, why they have been enthusiastic to file the suits? Have they learned it for the first time after the confession of Mahfuz Anam that false information about Sheikh Hasina were published in newspapers?

Throughout the last seven years the government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina is in power. Why have they so long been silent? It is to be particularly mentioned here that at that time the news supplied by the intelligence agency were published not in The Daily Star only, but in all newspapers or it rather can be said that they were compelled to publish the same. But the people did not believe all those untrue information. If they believed so, Sheikh Hasina could not have a landslide victory in the Election of 2008.

Thirdly, why Mahfuz Anam would suffer the punishment alone? Others who published and were compelled to publish false news supplied by the army intelligence organisation are equally punish able. Particularly, officials of the Mayeenuddin Fakhruddin government who compelled the media to circulate and publish untrue information are really guilty of the offence. Why suits are not being filed against them?

Fourthly, everybody knows the fact that at that time abnormal situation prevailed in the country. The newspapers were under pressure and compelled to print false news. One or two persons were an exception.  As for example, editor, New Age Mr. Nurul Kabir demonstrated boldness. For that reason he had fallen in a great risk, we happened to learn it. But if anybody fails to show temerity like him, is it an offence?

I want to say at last if anybody acknowledges the fault, the matter may end here. In this respect in his writing poet and writer Abul Momen has quoted from the autobiography of Bangabandhu. I myself also want to quote here the same thing If I make any wrong and do injustice, I never had any pain. If I commit any mistake, I would correct the same; to err is humane. (The unfinished Autobiography of Bangabandhu, P-8)

We can certainly hope that the daughter of Bangabandhu herself would follow this ideal. Mahfuz Anam has accepted the wrong voluntarily. The matter should end here; what the over-enthusiastic few of the party of Prime Minister are doing in filing the case after case should be considered as unwise.

If the suit actually runs, the trial would be conducted by the court. The verdict delivered by the court, may it be of our choice or not, we are bound to accept it. But we can surely say a few words about the merit of the suit. Let us first see the issue of treason case. From section 121 to 126 of Panel Code prevailing in Bangladesh there is an explanation of the nature of anti-state crimes and the punishment thereof. This includes war, conspiracy, etc. against the state. In Section 124 there is mention of the matters of obstruction to the application of lawful authority and with that propose attacking the President and the like person. It is remarkable here that at the time of the said occurrence Sheikh Hasina was not in power, Fakhruddin  Moyeenuddin were in power. Things that are stated in Section-125 and 126 are concerned with friendly countries. Mahfuz Anam neither had fought a war against the state nor he took stand against it; even he did not try to do any harm to a friendly state. Then in what definition he committed anti-state offence?

Now something should be said in connection with the defamation case. For writing in the newspaper defamation suit may be instituted. But there is a convention that if fault or wrong is accepted by anybody for a published news in the newspaper no defamation suit can be filed. Mahafuz Anam had accepted the mistake voluntarily before anybody raised an allegation. We have also learned from a report published in Kaler Kantha of 18 February that In a suit of Shahadat Chowdhury Vs. M. Ataur Rahman in 1996 the High Court had concluded in a judgment that if anybody had got injured on a published news, he would send a protest on the news. If the rejoinder is not published, only then he can file a defamation suit. On this point defamation case against Mahfuz Anam does not stand.

If a case is instituted against the publication of news in the newspaper, the court would issue summon to the accused person and should not issue a warrant of arrest against him. The government under Sheikh Hasina passed it in the form of bill in the Parliament on 2 February, 2011. For this reason Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should surely be applauded. But a direct warrant of arrest was issued in the defamation case filed in Narayanganj. Afterwards, off course, Law Minister Anisul Haque said, I speak with responsibility, warrant of arrest wont be, it would be a summon.

I have no intention of going into a detailed discussion on technical side of law. The key point is that the manner in which a craze of filing cases against Mahfuz Anam persists, it would harm the independence of newspaper itself. It would also damage the image of the country. Myself being of the same opinion with the venerable personalities of the country including the Editors Council I also want to hope that good sense in all quarters would prevail and the suits be withdrawn.

* The writer is a Politician

** Translated into English by The Economy Analyst.