Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud has conceded it would've been better to notify Prothom Alo reporter Shamsuzzaman Shams of the case against him prior to his arrest, but has no doubts about the merits of the case itself.
"He was arrested soon after the case was filed against him and he was produced in court within 24 hours. Now the court will judge," Hasan Mahmud said Thursday evening, in response to a question during the unveiling of a book 'Bangabandhu in Newspaper Advertisements' at the Secretariat.
The minister posed the question: whether dishonouring the country's independence by writing lies in the name of a child after paying him Tk10 is a crime or not.
"It is like publishing the news on Basanti wearing a net," he said, referring to a distorted news story published during the famine of 1974 in a vernacular daily.
Before Bangabandhu's assassination, Basanti was photographed wearing a net and it was published as a symbol of poverty and general scarcity in the country, Mahmud said. What the story missed however, was that a fishing net cost more than a typical item of clothing back then, and even now.
"Many people are terming the news of Prothom Alo on March 26 similar. According to people from all strata, this kind of falsehood against the state, society, and independence is a crime, a digital crime," he said.
Additional Secretary of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry Md Faruque Ahmed, PIB Director General Zafar Wazed and writer and researcher Papi Debi Thapa were present on the occasion, among others.
The minister conceded that journalism is not a crime, but at the same time asserted that a journalist who commits a crime must obviously face the consequences. "Is anyone of us above justice, above the law? Certainly not."
Regarding BNP's statement on the incident, Mahmud said it is nothing but their (BNP's) propensity to give a statement centering anything they find.
"The kind of freedom of expression you have in Bangladesh is not found in many developing countries. If you talk about the Digital Security Act, it is meant to provide digital security to all people of the country, and also to provide digital security to journalists," he added.
"Similar laws have been enacted in different countries across the world. Cyber Security Laws and Regulations 2022 in the United Kingdom, Cyber Law and Punishment in the United States and similar laws are in operation in many countries across the world. Many of them are much tougher than ours," said the senior minister, also a joint secretary general of the Awami League.