It is with utmost consternation that we observe that recently Bangladesh Government has filed charges under the infamous Article 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act against publisher Shamsuzzoha Manik. the 73-year old owner of the Bod-dip publishing house. Mr. Manik, was arrested by police on February 15, 2016 at the annual Dhaka Ekushey book fair for publishing and selling books that were deemed offensive to Islam. Since then he was consistently denied bail thus violating the rights guaranteed by the Bangladesh constitution with respect to freedom of expression. We worry about Mr. Manik’s failing health during his prolonged detention; our hope is that the authorities would drop the charges against him in view of his deteriorating health. Below we reproduce the statement from PEN America that was issued on June 20, 2016 regarding Mr. Manik.

BANGLADESH: PUBLISHER’S ONGOING DETENTION ILLUSTRATES NEED FOR LEGAL REFORM
June 20, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

NEW YORK—The continued detention of Bangladeshi publisher Shamsuzzoha Manik is an undue restriction on freedom of expression in a current environment of extreme risk for those who express dissenting views, PEN America said in a statement today.

On February 15, 2016, police arrested 73-year-old Manik, owner of the Ba-Dwip Prakashan publishing house, in front of his stall at the annual Ekushey Boi Mela book fair for selling books deemed “insulting to Islam.”Authorities seized six books, charging Manik and two of his associates under Article 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. Though his associates were released, Manik remains in prison after being denied bail on May 23 and, if convicted, faces up to 14 years in jail.The continued detention of Bangladeshi publisher Shamsuzzoha Manik is an undue restriction on freedom of expression in a current environment of extreme risk for those who express dissenting views, PEN America said in a statement today.

Though first passed in 2006, Bangladeshi authorities have used the ICT Act with increasing frequency over the past few years—since 2013, more than a hundred bloggers, journalists, and others writing online have been arrested for violating Article 57. The ICT Act allows for warrantless arrests and 14-year maximum sentences for online violations that range from hacking to specific kinds of online expression about individuals or religion that could be deemed defamatory or offensive.

“The zealous application of Article 57 by the authorities not only punishes critical voices in Bangladesh, but also contributes to the dangerous culture of impunity surrounding the brutal murders of writers and publishers by religious extremists,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN’s Free Expression Programs. “PEN calls on the government to release Shamsuzzoha Manik immediately and amend the ICT Act to send a clear signal that such expression is permissible under Bangladeshi law.”

Since February 2015, Islamic extremists have killed at least nine writers, activists, academics, and students in Bangladesh. Last week, Bangladeshi authorities arrested one of the individuals involved in the attack on publisher Ahmed Rashid Chowdhury, who is also known as “Tutul.” However, the government’s progress on impunity needs to be matched by legal reform. PEN, building on our ongoing advocacy efforts for writers in Bangladesh, joined a coalition of rights groups in early June in issuing a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that outlines the legal barriers to free expression in the country. This week, during the 32nd session of the UNHRC in Geneva, the coalition will advocate for action to break down these barriers and end impunity in Bangladesh.

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression at home and abroad. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org

CONTACT
Sarah Edkins, Deputy Director for Communications: +1 646-779-4830, [email protected]