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Acting editor of suspended newspaper says he was tortured in police custody

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, June 15, 2010 - The International Press Institute is deeply concerned by reports that acting editor of suspended Bangladeshi newspaper Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, may have been tortured in police custody.

"Your honour, please save my life," the editor was quoted by local media as telling the court. "I am not supposed to be alive after the level of torture I have experienced at the cantonment police station. I was blindfolded and stripped by five men in the lock-up. I fainted after they pressed me on the chest and back."

Meanwhile, the paper remains shut, as the Supreme Court of the country today issued a stay on an earlier court order which would have allowed the paper to continue publishing.

Rahman was arrested on 1 June, when police stormed the Dhaka office of the paper. The arrest came mere hours after Dhaka's deputy commissioner, Muhibul Haque, ordered its publishing license suspended, as IPI reported at the time. The deputy commissioner had alleged that the paper had no publisher and therefore could not be allowed to publish. However, local sources reported that the publisher had been coerced into signing a paper that stated he was not the publisher of the paper.

IPI Press Freedom Adviser for Asia, Barbara Trionfi, who is currently in Dhaka for talks with local officials about press freedom issues in the region, spoke to Ministry of Information secretary, Kamal Abdul Naser Chowdhuri, who said the paper had been suspended under the Printing Presses and Publication Act of 1973, which governs the printing and publication of newspapers in the country. Chowdhuri also told IPI that the case was being discussed by the courts, and that it would be up to the courts to make a final decision.

On 10 June, the High Court stayed the suspension order for three months, and issued a notice to the government to demonstrate why the order should not be declared illegal. The government filed a petition on 11 June with the Supreme Court to overrule the High Court order. According to The Daily Star, the High Court also directed the government not to torture Mahmudur Rahman mentally or physically while he is in custody.

On 15 June, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh issued a four-week stay on the High Court's order and directed the government to file an appeal.

The media community in Bangladesh has joined in solidarity against the move by the government to suspend Amar Desh. Members of the journalistic community in the country observed a six-hour strike on 8 June to demand that Amar Desh be allowed to resume operation and that Mahmudur Rahman be released.

Speaking from Dhaka, IPI's Barbara Trionfi, said, "It is encouraging to see that, in the face of what is clearly a gross violation of press freedom, editors across the country have chosen to put aside any political differences and support the rights of their colleagues at Amar Desh. This gives immense hope for the future of press freedom in Bangladesh."

Speaking on behalf of the IPI Bangladesh National Committee, IPI Executive Board Member Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul said: "We are very concerned by the reports that Amar Desh's editor was tortured in police custody. We believe that the Press Council should be strengthened so that media-related issues can be resolved outside court."
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