Dhaka, Bangladesh (AFP):
A leading Bangladeshi publisher known for its works by dissident writers has said that it has been banned from the country’s leading book fair. This is the latest in the government’s clampdown on its critics.
The Ekushey Book Fair is organised by the Bangla Academy, the government’s state-run literacy agency, and is a major event on the local cultural calendar.
Leading Bengali writers gather in the capital Dhaka each February to discuss their work, and millions of dollars’ worth of books are sold at the month-long festival.
Publishing house Adarsha had planned to exhibit, but chief executive Mahabubur Rahman said its titles critical of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government had fallen foul of censors.
“The academy has blocked us from opening our stall in the fair and they did not even bother to inform us directly,” Rahman told reporters at a press conference in Dhaka.
“When I contacted them in person, the organisers responded that three of the books we published contained criticism of the government, ruling party and its student wing.”
Organisers did not officially clarify the reason behind the ban, but a Bangla Academy official said some of Adarsha’s books were “against the policy” of the academy.
“Objections regarding some of their books were raised and we found that they conflict with our policy,” book fair committee member A.K.M. Muzahidul Islam told The Daily Star newspaper.
“There are various statements against the government,” he added.
The ban prompted dismay on social media, with leading authors and Bangladeshi academics lending their support to the publishing house.
“Banning a leading publisher that tries to accommodate dissenting voices without officially citing any reasons is clearly an authoritarian move,” lawyer and rights activist Jyotirmoy Barua said.
Rights groups say Sheikh Hasina’s government has imposed severe restrictions on freedom of expression, including muzzling local media outlets.