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Wednesday, May 14, 2008 - Page updated at 04:30 AM

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Bangladesh editors call for free press

Associated Press Writer

DHAKA, Bangladesh —

Senior editors and journalists from more than a dozen leading Bangladesh newspapers and television stations have demanded an end to the country's state of emergency and called for greater press freedom.

The journalists met in Dhaka on Tuesday to discuss threats to the media, said Ataus Samad, a former BBC Bengali service reporter who chaired the meeting.

In a statement, they called for government agencies to stop interfering in the media's work.

A state of emergency was declared in Bangladesh on Jan. 11, 2007, after weeks of street violence over electoral reforms. An interim government backed by the influential military currently runs the country.

"The media have been working with limited rights and under pressure of the emergency rules that curtail many rights," the journalists said.

"Different agencies - military and civilian - have been interfering with media activities," they said. "Regular interference in day-to-day work of the media is not acceptable."

Shyamol Dutta, editor of the Bhorer Kagoj newspaper, who attended Tuesday's meeting, said emergency rule was disrupting normal media activities.

"We want emergency rule to go as it has curtailed media rights," Dutta said Wednesday.

Bangladesh has a history of intimidation of the media, but there has been growing discontent among journalists about alleged interference by security officials.

Many publications have resorted to self-censorship, according to the journalists.

The editors said they regularly receive telephone calls telling them to stop publishing or broadcasting certain news, while television stations have been asked not to invite some commentators to their talk shows.

"The journalists who are critical of the military-backed government's activities have been blacklisted for television talk shows," Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, editor of the Bangladesh Observer newspaper, said recently. "I am one of them."

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The journalists decided Tuesday to create a formal committee to deal with the matter, Samad said.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Information could not be reached for comment Wednesday, while a military spokesman declined to comment.

Global rights groups including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch have criticized the interim government for failing to protect press freedom.

Journalists in Bangladesh are routinely threatened, assaulted or killed for writing about political violence, corruption or organized crime, according to media rights groups. At least 11 journalists have been killed and dozens maimed since 1997, they say.

The interim government has pledged to hold elections in the third week of December.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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