New York, Feb 21: Bangladeshi authorities should immediately withdraw all criminal charges filed against the editors of the Daily Star and Prothom Alo, the country's leading newspapers, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.
Bangladesh should repeal its criminal defamation and sedition laws, which violate international standards, the rights body said.
The editor of the English-language Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam, faced a total of 54 criminal defamation cases and 15 sedition cases, largely for publishing corruption allegations from military sources several years ago.
On February 16, 2016, a court in Narayangunj issued an arrest warrant against Anam in a case filed by a private lawyer.
Fifty-five cases have been filed against Matiur Rahman, the editor of Prothom Alo, Bangladesh's highest circulation Bengali-language daily (and the sister paper of the Daily Star), as well as against the newspaper and some journalists associated with the paper, for criminal defamation and "hurting religious sentiment".
Each criminal defamation charge allows for two years' imprisonment, and each sedition charge for three, Human Rights Watch said.
"Criminal charges against editors of the leading newspapers in Bangladesh are a clear attempt to intimidate all media in the country," said Human Rights Watch.
"A government controlling almost all seats in parliament and all national executive authority has to be particularly protective of a free press - or risk turning Bangladesh into an authoritarian state."
The cases are part of a larger, organized assault on independent media in Bangladesh over several years, Human Rights Watch said.