Case under DSA: Prothom Alo has the right to get justice
The High Court yesterday said the Prothom Alo has the right to get justice because it had corrected the mistake it made in an online report on March 26.
"Everybody has the right to get protection of law. The complainant could have gone to Bangladesh Press Council if he was aggrieved by the report.
"As far as we know, Prothom Alo publishes objective reports. They have a slogan -- in search of truth. They are a pioneer in news publishing. But how will it work if you publish this kind of news?" asked the court referring to the March 26 report.
The bench of Justice Mustafa Zaman Islam and Justice Md Aminul Islam made the observations while hearing a petition filed by Prothom Alo Editor and Publisher Matiur Rahman seeking bail in a case filed under the Digital Security Act.
The bench granted him anticipatory bail for six weeks and asked him to show up at the metropolitan sessions judge's court in Dhaka after six weeks and seek fresh bail.
The courtroom was packed with lawyers and journalists.
Matiur appeared virtually before the bench from the Supreme Court premises during the hearing.
Lawyers Fida M Kamal, ZI Khan Panna, Imtiaz Mahmood, Syeda Rizwana Hasan and Prashanta Kumar Karmoker appeared for Matiur while Additional Attorney General Mohammad Mehedi Hassan Chowdhury and Deputy Attorney General Sujit Chatterjee Bappi opposed the bail petition.
Matiur, Prothom Alo staff reporter Shamsuzzaman Shams, an unnamed photographer, and unnamed others were sued over a report published on March 26, the Independence Day.
As far as we know, Prothom Alo publishes objective reports. They have a slogan -- in search of truth. They are a pioneer in news publishing. But how will it work if you publish this kind of news?
While posting the said report written by Shams on social media, Prothom Alo made a "card" with a quote of a labourer named Zakir Hossain. Though the card contained Zakir's quote, it had the photo of an adolescent boy taken from behind.
It was noticed within 17 minutes, and the card was removed. Besides, corrections were made to the report and the news was again published online mentioning the corrections.
Around 4:00am on March 29, Shams was picked up from his home in Savar by plainclothes men claiming to be CID officers. His whereabouts were unknown until he was taken to a Dhaka court around 30 hours later. The court later sent him to jail.
At yesterday's hearing, Fida M Kamal told the court that a lawyer filed the case against Matiur and several others under sections 25, 31 and 35 of the DSA. But there is no element of offences in the report as per these sections.
The sections have been abused through filing of the case, he said, adding that the case was filed in order to harass the Prothom Alo editor and its journalists. A reporter of Ekattor TV has complicated matters by making a report regarding the Prothom Alo report.
The complainant, Abdul Malek Mashiur Malek, said in the case that he remembered the photo of a woman named Basanti in a net published in 1974, Fida told the court.
He then asked how the complainant, who is now 61, could remember the picture after so many years.
Mashiur wrote in the complaint that in 1974, a mentally challenged woman named Basanti was made to wear a net, and a photo of the woman in that state was published in a newspaper spreading panic over famine.
Fida said the mistake, made by Prothom Alo, was noticed within 17 minutes, and corrections were made.
"How did the Prothom Alo report damage the spirit of independence?" he asked.
Presenting his arguments, ZI Khan Panna said Matiur is a freedom fighter, a progressive man, and a former member of the Communist Party, who was also the editor of an esteemed weekly named Ekota.
Justice Mustafa Zaman said, "We used to read the Ekota."
Additional AG Mehedi Hassan Chowdhury then argued that Prothom Alo published the false report with a quote of a child who was given Tk 10 to give the quote on Independence Day.
Another journalist of Ekattor TV discovered the falsehood of Prothom Alo, he said, adding that the Prothom Alo report carried a questionable message.
DAG Sujit Chatterjee told the court that editors like Matiur Rahman, Mahfuz Anam, and Anwar Hossain Manju are institutions in their own right.
"I also read Prothom Alo which is a non-communal newspaper. This is a pro-independence daily.
"But Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman has picked the Independence Day to publish such an irresponsible report in order to tarnish the image of the state and the government and to destabilise the country when Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is taking the nation forward amid the fallout from Ukraine war," he said.
Prothom Alo has admitted its offence, he said, adding that the newspaper is used as a shield.
At one stage of the hearing, the HC bench said his (Matiur) own image was damaged as well.
Additional AG Mehedi Hassan Chowdhury told the court that the government has not brought any allegation against Prothom Alo.
Making a mistake and then withdrawing the false report is like returning the money after picking someone's pocket, Mehedi said.
Justice Mustafa Zaman then told him that Prothom Alo withdrew the report after noticing the mistake.
Contacted, Additional AG Mehedi told The Daily Star that he is yet to get any instructions from the government to move an appeal before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court against the HC order of bail.
Matiur's lawyer ZI Khan Panna told reporters that a lawyer has filed the case against his client after being personally aggrieved, but the state's additional attorney general and deputy attorney general appeared for the complainant, which is unlawful.
Earlier in the day, another HC bench led by Justice SM Kuddus Zaman refused to hear the bail petition.