New “Draconian” Media Policy Condemned by Human Rights Watch, While Existing Closures Cost Lives

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Mr Mahtab Uddin Mamun, senior video editor of Diganta Television died recently following a massive cardiac arrest. Mr Mamun has been undergoing severe financial crisis following the closure of Diganta Television by government forces last year during the Hefazat-e-Islam rally at Shapla Chottor, Dhaka.

Mr Mahtab Uddin Mamun

Mr Mahtab Uddin Mamun

DTV had been covering the massive rally on May 5 2013, formed by Hefazat in opposition to Islamophobic comments made at the Shahbag rally. Hefazat also put forward demands critical of some of the governments policies. In the midst of the television coverage, state police forces raided the DTV offices and forced closure of the channel along with a second channel also covering the rally, Islamic TV. This was followed by armed raids and dispersion of the Shapla Chottor rally. Dhaka based human rights group, Odhikar, published a report following the raids, stating dozens died as a result of state violence on the Hefazat gathering. Following publication of the report Odhikar Secretary General, Adilur Rahman Khan, and Director, Nasiruddin Elan, were indicted for their report.

The closures of the TV channels plunged their hundreds of employees in financial uncertainty at the sudden loss of employment. Mr Mamun was on such employee. After the sudden loss of his job as Senior Video Editor at the channel, he struggled with severe financial difficulty, attempting to establish a living through various unsuccessful means.

His death has been seen by some as symptomatic of the challenges suffered by dissident Bangladeshi media at the hands of the authorities.  DTV remains closed to this day. More recently a new national broadcast policy has been established. In a press briefing on August 28, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told journalists not to ‘cross the line’ set down in the new guidelines, local media reported. She was quoted as saying: ‘Don’t try to cut off the branch you are sitting on. You too will fall. I think a hint is enough for the intelligent.’

Human Rights Watch issued a report criticising the ‘draconion’ new media policy.

‘This policy exemplifies how little appreciation the government has for free speech,’ said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director. ‘This vague policy will allow the government to take arbitrary action against those it sees as its political opponents and could be a precursor to legislation that would lead to censorship and criminal penalties.’

Human Rights Watch adds ‘Because none of the key terms are defined, media would be susceptible to arbitrary enforcement.

‘This policy is a frontal assault on media freedom, which is essential as a check on government power, corruption, and human rights abuses, among many other issues,’ Adams said. ‘It empowers an increasingly authoritarian state with tools to go after critics. It needs to be revoked if the government is serious about its commitment to freedom.’