Bangladesh FIFA official held in defamation case gets bail

DHAKA (Reuters) - A Bangladesh court granted FIFA council member Mahfuza Akhter Kiron bail on Tuesday, her lawyer said, days after she was arrested on suspicion of defamation after saying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was neglecting football in the cricket-mad country.

"The court granted her bail until April 2 ... basically on medical ground as she is receiving cancer treatment," her lawyer, Liakat Hossain, told Reuters on Tuesday. Kiron will be released from prison when the prison authority receives the bail order.

Hasina's administration has recently been accused of cracking down on free speech and adopting an increasingly authoritarian style. The government, which won a third straight term in December, denies freedom of speech is under attack in the country of 165 million people.

Abul Hasan Chowdhury Prince, who filed the case against Mahfuza, said her comments against Hasina were derogatory.

If found guilty, Mahfuza could face up to two years in prison. Her arrest triggered criticisms from rights groups including Amnesty International.

"Championing football is not a crime. Mahfuza Akhter Kiron was merely exercising her right to freedom of expression by stating that the Prime Minister favoured cricket over football," said Saad Hammadi, South Asia Campaigner at Amnesty International.

"If the implications of a defamation case were not so serious, it would be laughable. Mahfuza Akhter Kiron must be released immediately and unconditionally."

(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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