DHAKA: The only newspaper of Bangladesh’s main opposition party has halted printing after a government suspension order was upheld by a watchdog, stoking fears about media freedom in the South Asian nation.
The Dainik Dinkal, a Bengali-language broadsheet, has been a mouthpiece of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) for more than three decades. It employs hundreds of journalists and press workers.
The daily covers news stories including the frequent arrests of BNP members and what the party says are thousands of fake cases against its supporters.
The newspaper on Monday said the Dhaka district authorities had ordered the shutdown on December 26, but it continued to publish after filing an appeal at the Press Council headed by a top high court judge.
“The council rejected our appeal yesterday [on Sunday], upholding the district magistrate’s order to stop our publication,” said Shamsur Rahman Shimul Biswas, managing editor of the newspaper.
The order, a copy of which was obtained by the AFP news agency, said the printing permit of the newspaper was cancelled after it violated the country’s printing and publication laws.
The council said the paper’s publisher, Tarique Rahman, the acting chief of BNP, was a convicted criminal and was living abroad without handing over his job to another person.
Biswas said Rahman, now based in London, submitted his resignation and appointed a new publisher, but the authorities did not accept the changes.
“This shutdown is all part of the government crackdown on dissenting voices and freedom of speech,” Biswas said.
The government on Monday did not comment on the shutdown.
Two Dhaka-based journalist unions said in a joint statement the decision was a “reflection of the repression of opposition voices”. Unions and journalists staged small street protests over the shutdown.
Campaigners and foreign governments, including the United States, have long expressed worries about efforts by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to silence criticism and what they see as creeping authoritarianism.
Last month, Hasina’s government ordered the closure of 191 websites it accuses of publishing “anti-state news”, citing intelligence reports.
The Bangladesh government has previously blocked websites several times, notably in December 2018 ahead of national elections. (Int’l News Desk)