Prothom Alo editor’s bail hearing: Issues highlighted at HC

Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman waves after getting six weeks anticipatory bail from the High Court in a case filed under the Digital Security Act on 2 April 2023
Sazid Hossain

Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman got six weeks anticipatory bail from the High Court in a case filed under the Digital Security Act on Sunday.

The HC bench of Justice Mustafa Zaman Islam and Justice Md. Aminul Islam passed the order in the case lawyer Abdul Malek (Mashiur Malek) filed against Matiur Rahman and the newspaper’s Savar staff correspondent Samsuzzaman at Ramna police station in the capital on Wednesday midnight.

Journalist Samsuzzaman was picked up from his residence in Savar by some people who identified themselves as members of police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) around 20 hours before filing of the case. Later, he was shown arrested in the case and sent to jail on Thursday.

Speaking to media, Samsuzzaman’s lawyer Prashanta Kumar Karmaker said the court sent the journalist to jail by rejecting his bail plea. As per the law, the bail plea has to be submitted first to the court of Chief Metropolitan Magistrate and then Metropolitan Sessions Judge Court. Another bail would be sought on Monday, he added.

The Prothom Alo editor on Sunday appealed for the anticipatory bail in the case filed at Ramna police station appearing before the court. The HC bench comprising justice Mustafa Zaman Islam and justice Md. Aminul Islam heard the appeal at around 3:15 pm.

Lawyers Fida M Kamal, Imtiaz Mahmood, Syeda Rizwana Hasan and Prashanta Kumar Karmaker stood for Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman. Lawyer ZI Khan Panna also took part in the hearing in favour of Matiur Rahman. Additional attorney generals Mohammad Mehedi Hasan Chowdhury, and Sudip Chatterjee represented the state.

When lawyer Fida M Kamal started hearing, the court asked what the allegation in the case is. To this, Fida M Kamal said a lawyer (plaintiff) alleged about a post. He included that under the sections 25, 31 and 35 of the Digital Security Act.

At a stage, highlighting a section of the case statement, the court said the allegation mentioned about a photograph of a child named Zakir published in Prothom Alo Online. Then Fida M Kamal said the photograph is of Sabuj, not of Zakir. Sabuj is a flower vendor. Day labourer Zakir also quoted in the report; the heading was made from his speech. The news report quoted them separately. The allegation about the matter was corrected immediately. But the plaintiff mistakenly maintains his previous position. The bail seeker is a highly respected journalist. But he was harassed in this way.

At this stage the court again read out another section of the allegation where the plaintiff said, “A person identifying himself as a journalist of Prothom Alo on the Independence Day gave the child Tk 10 and took his photograph holding a microphone to the child; that person did not ask his name or anything else and he did not say anything. I panicked watching the report of Farzana Report (a reporter of Ekattor Television) and I recalled that a person name Basanti in Kurigram in 1974 …”

Then the court said none came ahead for Basanti that time. To this remark, Fida M Kamal said, correct. What was the age of the complainant in 1974 if he is 61 now? How could he remember that incident? This is illogical.

The court sent Prothom Alo journalist Samsuzzaman to jail, rejecting his bail plea in a case filed under the Digital Security Act on 30 March 2023
Prothom Alo

The court said, “The court said, “As far we know, Prothom Alo carries objective reports. They have a slogan -- in search of truth. If a responsible person like you, pioneer in journalism in Bangladesh, publish news like this …”

Lawyer Fida M Kamal said, “We did not do any mistake. The plaintiff filed the case out of political motivation by incorrectly and distorting - we are asking to consider this side.”

The court said the plaintiff is a lawyer. How he became aggrieved? Fida M Kamal replied, “I don’t know. The Digital Security Act is being abused.”

Lawyer ZI Khan Panna said Matiur Rahman was the editor of Ekota. He is a pioneer in journalism. He is the editor of most circulated newspaper Prothom Alo. Does the Independence gets damaged is anyone says “Not getting rice”?

Deputy attorney general Sujit Chatterjee Bappy said, “I’m also a reader of Prothom Alo because this is a pro-liberation and pro-noncommunal newspaper. But what did it do using this as a shield?”

He said a 7-year-old child was given Tk 10 and coaxed to give a statement. Later, it corrected the report. The news report was published on 26 March. The correction was given on 27 March. By that time the damage was done.

To this the court said, since a correction has been given, as per the section 27 of the constitution, it has an equal right to get the protection of law.

Later, additional attorney general Mohammad Mehedi Hasan took part in the hearing. He said photograph of a boy from the street was taken giving him Tk 10 and published his speech without saying anything. The matter was not unearthed by the government, rather by another journalist.

The court gave the order after the hearing.

Later, speaking to newspersons, lawyer Prashanta Kumar Karmaker said the court has granted six weeks bail to Matiur Rahman. The court also asked to submit the bail order to Dhaka Metropolitan Sessions Judge Court.

How the case was filed and Samsuzzaman picked up

A ‘graphics card’ was prepared with contents from a report of Prothom Alo Online for sharing in its Facebook page on 26 March. The card used a quote of day labourer Zakir Hossain. It used a photograph of a child, Sabuj, who was waiting outside of the closed gate of National Mausoleum in Savar.

The original report had a quote of the child as well. Both the quotes of the child and day labourer Zakir were separately placed in the original report. But Prothom Alo took down the ‘graphics card’ quickly from its Facebook page apprehending it would give birth to confusion among the readers. A note of correction was also published below the online report.

Later, Ekattor Television aired a report about the Prothom Alo report. Following this, a team of around 14-15 people went to the house of Samsuzzaman near Jahangirnagar University in Savar at around 4:00 am on 29 March.

Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman waves hand at all the people after getting six weeks anticipatory bail from the High Court in a case filed under the Digital Security Act on 2 April 2023
Sazid Hossain

They identified themselves as members of police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID), searched the room of Samsuzzaman and seized his laptop, two mobile phones, and a portable hard disk. Later, they picked Samsuzzaman up from his residence and kept him at an undisclosed location. Whereabouts of Samsuzzaman could not be found for 30 hours.

However, it was learned in the afternoon on 29 March that the general secretary of ward no. 11 of Dhaka north city unit Jubo League, Syed Md. Golam Kibria, filed a case against Samsuzzaman under Digital Security Act with Tejgaon police station in Dhaka at 2:15 am on Wednesday. Jubo League is the youth wing of ruling Bangladesh Awami League. He was also a member of the central committee of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling party.

Police, however, produced Samsuzzaman after 30 hours of picking him up in another case filed at Ramna police station on 30 March morning. The case was filed under the Digital Security Act on 29 March midnight. Prothom Alo editor was also made an accused in the case.

Samsuzzaman gets bail

Police produced Samsuzzaman before the CMM court on 30 March and appealed to keep him in jail while Samsuzzaman’s lawyer sought his bail that day. Later, the court ordered to send him to jail after hearing.

On that day Samsuzzaman was taken to Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj from the court. On the next day, Friday, Samsuzzaman was shifted to Kashimpur Central Jail in Gazipur. Then on Saturday, he was once again brought to Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj.

Samsuzzaman, however, got bail in the case filed at Ramna police station under the Digital Security Act.