• Monday, Jan 17, 2022
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Former ruling party MP accused of orchestrating ‘attempts to muzzle journalism’

  • Published at 08:24 pm February 17th, 2021
Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Toufique Imrose Khalidi, editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com, addresses a press briefing held at the news portal’s Mohakhali office in Dhaka on Wednesday, February 17, 2021 Dhaka Tribune

Online news portal bdnews24.com holds press conference following dozens of legal notices demanding the removal of reports published on and related to HBM Iqbal from 2007 till present day

bdnews24.com – the country’s first web-based news agency established in 2005 –has accused a former ruling party lawmaker of making “bizarre attempts to muzzle journalism.”

The authorities of the bilingual news portal came up with the allegations at a press briefing held at their Mohakhali office on Wednesday. 

They claimed that HBM Iqbal – a businessman and former Awami League MP from Dhaka 10 constituency – is pressurizing them to take down the reports published on and related to him from 2007 and till the present.

These reports include the 2010 verdict exonerating Dr Iqbal in a murder case as well as a 2017 order allowing his wife and children to appeal in the High Court (HC).

“Several individuals on his behalf have sent a total of 36 legal notices to bdnews24.com from 24 districts as of Tuesday. This all started from late January,” Toufique Imrose Khalidi, editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com, told the media.

“The language, statements and demands in the notices, sent under different names, are identical,” Khalidi, who is also the publisher of the news portal, read out a written statement.

The reports for which the news portal has been threatened with lawsuits are based on court orders in cases against Dr Iqbal and his family members.

Those who have sent the legal notices identified themselves as “friends” of Dr Iqbal and claimed that the reports had besmirched the reputation of the former MP and his family.

The bdnews24.com chief and three of his news editors have also been threatened with defamation and cases under the Digital Security Act (DSA).

“The reports are not based on bdnews24.com’s own investigation, but they objectively reflect the court proceedings and orders. It naturally begs the question: what logical reason is there for the news publisher to remove these reports?" Khalidi said in his statement. 

“We’ve been told repeatedly that others have already removed their reports on the issue. Several attempts were made to manipulate us, engaging influential people, including those from the media. Having failed to compel us to remove the reports despite repeated efforts, they have now resorted to a truly bizarre approach.”

“Apart from these, they [those who issued the legal notices] have mentioned various reports on Dr Iqbal or his family published by bdnews24.com between 2007 and the recent past, which they claim are ‘false and baseless.’ However, they have failed to link their objections to any specific part of the reports,” he said.

The news portal provided reporters with a list of the reports it has been pressured to take down.

“We are being targeted with the accusation of ‘deliberate defamation’ for the same news published by all the mainstream media outlets on the court proceedings and orders,” said Khalidi, adding, “bdnews24.com received the first legal notice at the end of January. We subsequently published a report on the matter on February 2. In keeping with the ethics and standards of good journalism, our correspondent spoke to the lawyer who sent the notice as well as Dr Iqbal.” 

“Now 12 years have passed after the 1/11 case. The High Court (HC) and Supreme Court (SC) have quashed these cases. Then why are you letting the entire world know about the lower court’s [orders],” former MP Iqbal had earlier asked the news portal.

Following the publication of the report, other legal notices began coming in from different districts and apart from reiterating the previous demands, they also raised objections to the report published on February 2, terming it “baseless.”

“Through this legal notice, you are also being alerted that my client will be compelled to take necessary legal action against you and your organization if you publish any false or baseless news after this. You must publish a notice by admitting your mistake about the news you have published. Otherwise, you will be responsible for adverse consequences,” said a legal notice sent from Faridpur.

The online news portal has also questioned the legality behind the threat of “adverse consequences” through the legal notices.

According to the website of Premier Bank, Dr Iqbal, who is also a freedom fighter, is the chairman of Premier Bank. He is currently serving as chairman of 12 different concerns, managing director of three and proprietor of two other concerns associated with the Premier Group, reads the website.

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