The Asia News Network (ANN) has demanded for the immediate withdrawal of the cases filed against The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam, calling it an act of harassment and intimidation against the media in Bangladesh.
In a letter addressed to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, a group of ANN editors have expressed serious concern over the summonses. They urged the government to respect due process in hearing the cases.
ANN is an alliance of 22 media in 19 countries in Asia, including The Daily Star. Anam sits on the Board of Editors.
The members of ANN are: The Straits Times (Singapore), Philippine Daily Inquirer (Philippines), The Korea Herald (South Korea), Dawn (Pakistan), The Nation (Thailand), The Star and Sin Chew Daily (Malaysia), The China Post (Taiwan), Statesman (India), China Daily (China), The Jakarta Post (Indonesia), The Yomiuri Shimbun and The Japan News (Japan), The Kathmandu Post (Nepal), Kuensel (Bhutan), The Island (Sri Lanka), Eleven Media (Myanmar), The Daily Star (Bangladesh), The Brunei Times (Brunei), Rasmei Kampuchea (Cambodia), Vientiane Times (Laos) and Viet Nam News (Vietnam).
"ANN sees this as an attempt to harass and intimidate the media in the South Asian country. We find this a worrying development that further challenges the media environment in Bangladesh," the letter stated.
"Mr Anam is one of the network’s pillars and his example of journalism has inspired and helped steer the alliance through its 17 years of history. He has set a rare example by making an introspective comment about a lapse in his editorial judgement in publishing a few reports, based on information given by the Task Force Interrogation Cell (TFIC) in 2007, without being able to verify those independently," it further said.
The editors noted that Anam "appears to be paying an undue price for it with the 75 cases that have been filed against him so far, only showing political aggression that does not serve the interest of Bangladesh".
The lawsuit galore began days after the Daily Star editor appeared on a television talk show on February 3 and expressed his regret over a lapse in editorial judgement in publishing some reports, based on information given by the TFIC without being able to verify those independently.
As of February 18, 75 lawsuits have been filed against Anam in 50 districts. Of them, 17 involve pleas for bringing sedition charges against him, while the rest are defamation suits.
A court issued an arrest warrant against Anam on February 16 on a libel suit, but revised its order the next day and issued a summons. Anam is set to appear before that court on March 28. Several other courts have served summonses against him for defamation.