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Outcry After Bangladesh Editor Arrested Under New Laws

FILE - People read newspapers at a newsstand in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Jan. 30, 2019.

Rights activists on Tuesday condemned the arrest of the editor of a Bangladesh opposition newspaper under harsh new digital security laws that critics say are used to muzzle dissent.

Abul Asad, editor of the Daily Sangram, was taken into custody on Friday after a publishing an article describing an executed opposition leader as a "martyr."

The 80-year-old was charged with defaming Bangladesh's liberation war history for mentioning Abdul Quader Mollah, who was convicted of war crimes committed during the 1971 independence war, local police chief Biplob Kumar Talukder told AFP.

Abul Asad is seen in an undated photo from his Facebook page @AbulAsadWriter.
Abul Asad is seen in an undated photo from his Facebook page @AbulAsadWriter.

Asad, who is due in court on Wednesday for an initial hearing, faces a maximum sentence of life behind bars if he is found guilty.

Bangladesh media laws—already used to arrest scores of opposition activists and dissidents—were tightened further in August despite protests by journalists and rights groups.

The office of the Daily Sangram, which is closely linked to an opposition alliance whose top leaders were executed for war crimes, was also attacked by a mob Friday and vandalized.

A staff member told AFP that Daily Sangram employees feared for their safety.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called for Asad's release and for authorities to "protect news outlets so they can report freely."

Independent Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil said the Daily Sangram was one of the last remaining opposition newspapers in the country and the arrest was "indicative of the state of press freedom in Bangladesh."

The South Asian nation ranks 150th among 180 countries in the world on Reporters Without Borders' 2019 World Press Freedom Index.