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Acting editor handed maximum six-month sentence for contempt of court

(IPI/IFEX) - VIENNA, 19 August 2010 - The acting editor of a politically-affiliated Bangladesh newspaper has been sentenced to six months in prison and a fine of 100,000 Takas (approx. €1,120) for contempt of court. Mahmudur Rahman has been in pre-trial detention since 1 June as a result of a slew of charges brought against him in connection with his publication's work. His "Amar Desh" newspaper is closely associated with the Bangladesh National Party, which is in opposition.

The judgement represents the first time that the Supreme Court has jailed anyone for contempt, and the sentence imposed is the maximum permitted by law, sources said.

Today's sentencing comes two and half months after a court ruled that Rahman along with four other staff members were in contempt of court, as the result of an article in "Amar Desh" published on 21 April which criticized the judiciary, according to local news reports.

The charge was brought by Supreme Court lawyers who filed the petition on 2 May. On 2 June the Apex Court found four of the five journalists in contempt (a news editor was pardoned), according to a report in Bangladesh's "Daily Star" newspaper. Staff reporter Aliullah Noman was sentenced to one month in jail and a fine of 10,000 Takas (approx. €110), and publisher Hashmat Ali was fined 10,000 Takas. Both Noman and Ali were forced to spend seven days in jail because they could not pay their fines, the "Daily Star" reported.

Under Bangladesh law, anything that maligns or scandalizes the court of law in the eyes of the public is considered to be contemptuous, and the statement's truth is not a defence, a legal counsellor in Bangladesh told IPI by phone from Dhaka today.

As IPI reported, Rahman was originally arrested on 1 June 2010 during a raid on "Amar Desh". He was charged with fraud because of a bureaucratic misstep that rendered his management of the newspaper illegal; Rahman was bailed the next day. However, four further charges relating to the obstruction of police business were immediately brought against him and he was jailed pending trial, the legal counsellor, who wished to remain unnamed, said.

On 15 June, IPI issued a statement on allegations that Rahman had been tortured in prison, despite reported High Court instructions that explicitly told jailers to refrain from mental or physical abuse.

"Amar Desh" was also shuttered during the raid for publishing without a license. This government action was challenged and in a decision made on 10 June the High Court ordered a stay on the suspension. This decision was in turn stayed by the Supreme Court on 15 June for four weeks. Since the Supreme Court's stay expired, "Amar Desh" has resumed publication until the final outcome of the licensing issue is determined.

IPI Press Freedom Manager Anthony Mills said: "We are concerned that in light of the apparent harassment of 'Amar Desh' newspaper in recent months, the decision to sentence Mr. Rahman to prison on contempt of court charges could reflect an ongoing attempt to intimidate and silence a news outlet that does not reflect the ruling party line."

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