Leading Bengali writers gather in the capital Dhaka each February to discuss their work, and millions of dollars’ worth of books are sold at the month-long festival.

Publishing house Adarsha had planned to exhibit, but chief executive Mahabubur Rahman said its titles critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had fallen foul of censors.

The academy has blocked us from opening our stall in the fair and they did not even bother to inform us directly
Mahabubur Rahman, Chief executive, Adarsha

“The academy has blocked us from opening our stall in the fair and they did not even bother to inform us directly,” Rahman told newspersons at a press conference in Dhaka.

“When I contacted them in person, the organisers responded that three of the books we published contained criticism of the government, ruling party and its student wing.”

Organisers did not officially clarify the reason behind the ban, but a Bangla Academy official said some of Adarsha’s books were “against the policy” of the academy.

Objections regarding some of their books were raised and we found that they conflict with our policy. There are various statements against the government
AKM Muzahidul Islam, Book fair committee member

“Objections regarding some of their books were raised and we found that they conflict with our policy,” book fair committee member AKM Muzahidul Islam told The Daily Star newspaper.

“There are various statements against the government,” he added.

Banning a leading publisher that tries to accommodate dissenting voices without officially citing any reasons is clearly an authoritarian move
Jyotirmoy Barua, Lawyer and rights activist

The ban prompted dismay on social media, with leading authors and Bangladeshi academics lending their support to the publishing house.

“Banning a leading publisher that tries to accommodate dissenting voices without officially citing any reasons is clearly an authoritarian move,” lawyer and rights activist Jyotirmoy Barua told AFP.

Western governments and the United Nations have expressed concern over the political climate in Bangladesh, where Sheikh Hasina’s party dominates the legislature.

Rights groups say her government has imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including muzzling local media outlets.

Washington levelled sanctions against top Bangladeshi security officers in 2021 over their roles in the extrajudicial killing of the ruling party’s political opponents.