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ACC Under Khalidi Fire

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Writers, researchers, litterateurs, journalists, rights campaigners, online activists and people from different echelons of society described the case as a tool of “harassment”. They strongly demanded the immediate withdrawal of the flimsy charges and the issues be looked into.

The protest campaign was started by journalist and online activist Omi Rahman Pial on Saturday. He posted a statement to Facebook where he demanded that the ACC case against Khalidi be dropped.

Pial invited the social utility users to copy and post the statement on their timeline if they subscribed to the statement and stand beside the “social protest against the wrongful charges mounted against him”.

Pial said the post has been shared no fewer than 40 times from his timeline alone while nearly a thousand people have reposted it. The post has been copied and shared from their timelines as well. All those posts have been endorsed and elicited a huge response.

“My understanding is that at least 20,000 agreed with and supported the statement on that very night,” he told bdnews24.com.

After bdnews24.com announced a Tk 500 million investment by an asset management firm in the news publisher in October last year, the ACC began examining the deal and subsequently started a case against Khalidi on Jul 30 this year.

The case alleges Khalidi deposited Tk 420 million into different bank accounts after receiving the money “through fraud [and] in an illegal way by creating fake documents”.

But the ACC case dossier itself said that the money came through the sale of company shares owned by bdnews24.com and Khalidi, and it was indeed the same money deposited in the accounts of four banks.

Khalidi, who consistently denies the allegation of corruption, told the media in the beginning of the ACC investigation that bdnews24.com did stories that “hurt a very powerful lobby”, and are “paying the price” for what he believes is good, exemplary journalism done by his colleagues.

The social media users highlighted the issue in the statement. They say they are “concerned” over the authorities not taking cognisance of the hints Khalidi gave in his comments.

“We are worried about the manner in which a journalist, whose stand against undemocratic and communal forces is widely recognised, is being harassed. This is why, as conscientious citizens, we feel the need for drawing the attention of the highest level of the government to these series of incidents,” they said.

The statement that went viral on Facebook said the ACC is mandated to check allegations of corruption against a citizen or organisation through the proper legal process.

“But the speed at which parts of the state machinery moved in the investigation after bdnews24.com broke the news of the investment, and simultaneous character assassination of an editor by a certain quarter through disinformation spread on social media indeed have left us stunned and suspicious of the whole affair.”

Pointing to the changes in the wordings and the nature of the allegations in the course of time after bdnews24.com secured the investment, the issuers and backers of the statement maintained that it is “not unnatural to be suspicious” about the action against its chief editor.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi, known for independent, fearless journalism, and bdnews24.com, trusted by readers for credibility and authenticity, may have been subjected to a conspiracy,” they said.     

“Especially, the news publisher’s role during 1/11, its stand against fundamentalism and communalism, its always being vocal about the trial of war crimes and the killers of Bangabandhu, and more recently, its reportage on the involvement of a controversial but ‘influential’ quarter in irregularities might have made it a target of a group.” 

The series of incidents surrounding bdnews24.com, “a great example of journalism against fundamentalism and for democracy”, indicates “an evil conspiracy”, the citizens said and urged the guardians of the state to “get to the root of the conspiracy for the sake of justice”. 

They have raised the following questions:

1. Who are the powerful people Khalidi said were angered by the reports against them? Why are they not being investigated? 

2. Has a fundamentalist and undemocratic force become active against bdnews24.com for taking a firm stance against reactionism? Are they using any part of the state machinery illegally?

3. What objectives do they want to achieve by endangering the existence of an independent news publisher like bdnews24.com? 

After the ACC began examining the so-called allegation of corruption, Khalidi in an article detailed the circumstances under which bdnews24.com entered the deal, where the money was, why he himself sold some of his shares and what happened after the deal.

“The matter has been probed by more than one state agency—publicly as well as, may I dare say now, behind the scenes—because the allegations or rumours/gossips (spread through social media and other means in the lead-up to the ACC move) were of serious nature,” he wrote.

“The cruellest part was, those who orchestrated it all knew all too well that money only changed hands between two companies incorporated in Bangladesh and operated under Bangladesh laws. Yet the vengeful and powerful people were given free rein when they acted from behind the stage. And those who helped them spread the propaganda knew it too. And, again, those who prepared “reports” meant for people at the very top were fully aware of it too.”

“Whose purpose are they trying to serve by trying to harm arguably the lone independent news publisher in Bangladesh which has been credited with many firsts, globally and nationally?

“Why was there an attempt to tarnish the image of both bdnews24.com and the individual who runs it?” he asked.

The statement endorsed by thousands categorically asked why these issues were not being taken seriously. bdnews24.com’s pro-active role in the efforts to deliver on the dream – the one they share –  of having a democratic Bangladesh, inspired by the spirit of the Liberation War and free from communalism, was “always beyond question”.

“Everyone knows about bdnews24.com’s contribution to propel Bangladesh’s news services into the internet age. And Toufique Imrose Khalidi’s role in establishing bdnews24.com as a news media that has come to be trusted by everyone by setting examples of objectivity in trying times is not unknown to the informed citizens.”   

These are the reasons for which the authorities should immediately withdraw the case designed for “harassment” and find who the people behind it are, the statement said.

Addressing the guardians of the state, the statement said, “Harassment of a trustworthy news publisher and its chief editor will endanger independent journalism. Also, it will greatly dent the morale of the intellectuals, advisers and members of the public who work for progress.”    

“It’s rare for the mainstream media to take a strong stance in favour of the Liberation War and against fundamentalism at the same time. It’s hard to find it online. The only exception is bdnews24.com and the main reason for its uncompromising position is Toufique Imrose Khalidi, who is its editor-in-chief,” Pial told the news publisher.

“As an activist, I’m personally indebted to him for giving pro-Liberation forces a strong platform. So when there is an attempt to unjustly frame him and cripple bdnews24.com, it becomes an obligation to protest and build resistance against it. From that standpoint, I shared a statement protesting against this injustice and it got an incredible response.”

Courtesy – BdNews24

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