The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately release Hedayet Hossain Mollah, who was arrested in Khulna in relation to his election coverage.
A court yesterday ordered Molla to be held for three days pending investigation into an accusation that he violated the Digital Security Act and reported "false information" about the number of votes cast from Khulna during general elections on December 30, CPJ said quoting media reports.
Molla works for the Dhaka Tribune, Bangla Tribune and Probaho, but reports did not specify to which outlet the accusation is related, the independent press freedom advocacy organisation mentioned in a report yesterday.
A second journalist, Rashidul Islam, from the daily Manab Zamin, was named in the police report on the same charge, but has not been arrested, according to the reports.
"Arresting a journalist for reporting on alleged election irregularities and raising legitimate questions is a disappointing way for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League party to respond to their re-election," said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler, in Washington, DC.
"The government should reaffirm its commitment to democratic values and refrain from abusing the Digital Security Act to attack press freedom."
Several journalists covering the election were attacked and denied entry to polling centers, the organisation said citing news reports.
WHAT ARE THE CHARGES AGAINST THE TWO JOURNALISTS?
Molla and Islam both reported on initial elections results that indicated the number of votes cast in a certain constituency was higher than the number of voters, the reports quoted The Daily Star as saying.
An elections officer later asserted that this had been a mistake, but the reporters had already published their stories, according to the daily.
CPJ could not immediately determine if they published a correction, the report said.
The police report said that their articles were "false information that was made intentionally to make the election result seem questionable and controversial," according to Reuters. CPJ's phone call today to Batiaghata police station, where the case was filed, went unanswered.
WHAT DID THE REPORT SAY ABOUT DIGITIAL ACT?
According to CPJ, the Digital Security Act under which Molla and Islam face charges was enacted in September despite concerns that it would create extensive legal dangers for journalists performing their duties.
The act replaces Bangladesh's Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, it said.
Authorities used that act to harass the press, including photographer Shahidul Alam, according to CPJ research.
No contact information was listed for the Awami League on the party's website. CPJ attempted to contact the government press secretary but the phone number listed on the website did not work, the report said.