Bangladesh’s largest opposition party newspaper has stopped publishing following a government suspension order.
The closure of The Dainik Dinkal, a broadsheet Bengali-language newspaper is fuelling concerns about media freedom in the south Asian country.
Campaigners and foreign governments including the US have long expressed worries about efforts by the 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 and covers news stories that the mainstream newspapers, most of which are controlled by pro-government businesspeople, 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 26 December, but it continued to publish after lodging 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, the 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 the BNP – was a convicted criminal and was living abroad without handing over his job to another person.
Two Dhaka-based journalist unions said in a joint statement that the decision was a “reflection of the repression of opposition voices”.
Bangladesh National Party (BNP) supporters take to the streets of Barisal earlier this month to demand the resignation of prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
‘They beat me with sticks’: Bangladesh opposition reels under crackdown as thousands arrested
Unions and journalists staged small street protests over the shutdown on Monday.
Last month, Hasina’s government ordered the closure of 191 websites it accused of publishing “anti-state news”, citing intelligence reports. The Bangladesh government has previously blocked websites several times, notably in December 2018 before 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.