DHAKA: The only newspaper of Bangladesh’s main opposition party halted printing on Monday after a government suspension order was upheld, stoking fears about media freedom in the South Asian nation.
Campaigners and foreign governments including the United States have long expressed worries about efforts by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to silence criticism and what they see as creeping authoritarianism.
The Dainik Dinkal, a broadsheet Bengali-language newspaper, has been a vital voice of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for more than three decades. It employs hundreds of journalists and press workers.
It covers news stories that the mainstream newspapers, most of which are controlled by pro-government businessmen, rarely do.
This includes the frequent arrests of BNP activists and what the party says are thousands of fake cases against its supporters.
The newspaper said the Dhaka district authorities ordered the shutdown on December 26, but it continued to publish after making an appeal at the Press Council headed by a top high court judge.
“The council rejected our appeal yesterday (Sunday), upholding the district magistrate’s order to stop our publication,” Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas, managing editor of the newspaper, told AFP.
The order, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, said the printing permit of the newspaper was cancelled after the newspaper violated the country’s printing and publication laws.
The council said the paper’s publisher, Tarique Rahman — the acting chief of BNP — was a convicted criminal and was living abroad without handing over his job to another person.
Biswas said Rahman, now based in London, submitted his resignation and appointed a new publisher, but the authorities did not accept the changes.
“This shutdown is all part of the government crackdown on dissenting voices and freedom of speech,” Biswas said.
The government on Monday did not comment on the shutdown.
Two Dhaka-based journalist unions said in a joint statement that the decision was a “reflection of the repression of opposition voices”.
Unions and journalists staged small street protests over the shutdown on Monday.
Last month, Hasina’s government ordered the closure of 191 websites it accuses of publishing “anti-state news”, citing intelligence reports.
The Bangladesh government has previously blocked websites several times, notably in December 2018 ahead of national elections.
The 2022 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders ranked Bangladesh at 162, worse than Russia (155) and Afghanistan (156).
Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act, under which hundreds of people have been arrested since 2018, has caused particular alarm.