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Questions over Bangladesh detention

Questions over Bangladesh detention

Author: Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta
Publication: BBC News
Date: December 1, 2001

The High Court in Bangladesh has directed the government to justify the detention of leading journalist and writer Shahriar Kabir who was arrested last month on charges of anti-state activities.

The order was issued after his wife filed a petition in the High Court challenging the detention order issued by the home ministry last week.

Meanwhile, media groups have asked the government to meet its commitment to respect press freedom.

Lawyers for Mr Kabir argued that his arrest was an attempt by the authorities to curtail freedom of expression - a right ensured by the country's constitution.

Justification order

Responding to the petition the high court asked the government to explain why Mr Kabir's detention should not be declared illegal.

It has given the government one week to respond.

Mr Kabir was arrested on 22 November at Dhaka airport upon his return from the eastern Indian city of Calcutta.

He had travelled there to film minority Hindus who reportedly fled Bangladesh following post-election violence in October.

Special Powers Act

Mr Kabir is now being detained at Dhaka's central jail under the controversial Special Powers Act.

This allows the government to imprison any individual for up to 90 days without any formal charge.

The government has alleged that the journalist was involved in anti-state activities, but has not filed formal charges against him.

It says the authorities are examining video footage he shot in Calcutta - which was seized by the police.

The government says legal action would be taken against the journalist on concrete evidence.

Rights curb

However, local media and human rights organisations view the arrest of Mr Kabir as a move to curtail the journalist's right to free speech and expression.

These organisations and opposition parties have condemned the arrest and are demanding his immediate release.

A joint report by the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication and the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres has said that at least 40 journalists have been attacked or threatened with death by supporters of the ruling coalition.

The report says the two organisations have received reports of attacks on journalists since the coalition - led by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) - came to power in October.

The groups say the rise of incidents against journalist discredits the government's press freedom policy.

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