On August 2, 2023, Comilla University (CoU) suspended a student journalist, Mohammad Iqbal Monowar for allegedly misreporting a speech by the university’s vice-chancellor and damaging the university’s reputation.
On July 31, 2023, CoU’s vice-chancellor, Professor Abdul Moyeen gave a speech on corruption at a university event. Later that day, Monowar, who is studying for his Master’s degree in English and works as a campus correspondent for the national daily newspaper Jaijaidin, published a story titled “Corruption prompts development in Bangladesh.” In the story, he quoted from Moyeen’s speech claiming that Moyeen had expressed appreciation for the country’s corruption. University officials stated that the quotes had been taken out of context and that Moyeen had been trying to encourage critical thinking by saying “The conventional wisdom is that corruption hinders economic development. Now a student may wonder if this idea is correct!” Moyeen reportedly later said explicitly that he was not speaking in support of corruption. Monowar claimed that he stood by his reporting and had an audio recording of the speech.
On August 2, CoU’s Registrar’s Office sent Monowar a suspension order. Prior to the suspension order, the university’s proctorial body had conducted a probe into the matter. However, according to Monowar, the probe and suspension decision did not follow due process, and the university did not attempt to address any inaccuracies with the newspaper before implementing disciplinary measures.
Monowar’s suspension led to a protest organized by former campus reporters on August 5. The matter was taken to the High Court and then the Supreme Court.The Courts stayed the suspension order for six months.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a student in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression – conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration for Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party. University authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly and should employ transparent, fair processes when engaging in disciplinary actions. Disciplinary measures aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.