PEN International and PEN Bangladesh have voiced deep concern by reports that The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam is currently facing lawsuits on charges of criminal defamation and sedition.
“By all means those defamed should have the right to seek redress through civil action, however defamation should never be criminalised and the state must ensure that Anam's rights are protected,” said Salil Tripathi, chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International.
PEN International is a London-based worldwide association with a membership of prominent literary writers and editors.
The “arrest warrant” against Mahfuz Anam is a grossly disproportionate action against an editor of enormous integrity, Tripathi said, adding that Anam has a long record of respecting the rule of law and impartial journalism in difficult circumstances.
“For some time now, the press in Bangladesh has been under siege and the actions of government officials and politicians associated with the ruling party reveal a concerted attack on independent media.”
PEN International holds that criminal defamation laws are pernicious and widely used by those in positions of power to silence critics, according a statement posted on its official website.
“Such laws -- and the disproportionate penalties that they introduce -- have a chilling effect on writers and journalists who uncover corruption, malfeasance and abuse of power and who are conscious of the possibility of serving lengthy prison sentences and the possibility of being left with a criminal record.”
The result is the stifling of reporting and public debate and difficulty in holding power to account, the statement added.
PEN called on the Bangladeshi authorities to repeal its criminal defamation legislation.