Reporters Without Borders is worried by a decline in the media’s ability to work freely in Bangladesh and, in particular, by a spate of physical attacks and threats against journalists by criminal gangs in the past few weeks as well as cases of harassment by the authorities.
“There has been no let-up in the climate of violence against journalists and in fact there has been a marked increase in the number of physical attacks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By allowing harassment and violence to become so widespread, the government is directly contributing to the decline in media freedom in Bangladesh. We again urge the government to react quickly and to take measures to stop this wave of violence.”
In one of the most recent cases of harassment, the Dacca police brought charges of conspiracy, vandalism and planned arson of government property on 26 September against 15 students who work as journalists for local papers and who had been covering protests by fellow students at Jagannath University against the withdrawal of government subsidies.
The Jagannath Journalists’ Association called for the immediate withdrawal of the charges against the 15 journalists – Jamil Khan of The Independent, Solaiman Salman of The Daily Sun, Jasim Reza of Dainik Kaler Kantho, Sadiqul Islam Niyougi Ponni of Dainik Jugantor, S.M. Mohsin of the BSS news agency, Tanvir Raihan of Dainik Shokaler Khabor, Abdur Rahman Khan Lemon of New Age, Suzaul Islam of Dainik Naya Diganta, Moazzem Shakil of Bangladesh News Network (BNN), Jonayed Ahmed and Atiqul Islam of Focus Bangla News, S. A. Malek of Dainik Inqilab, Zaber of Dainik Sangram, Ibrahim Prince of Dainik Khabar Patra and Mohammad Yasin Hossain of Sheersha News.
In one of the latest cases of violence, S.M. Zakaria, the Dainik Bhorer Kagoj newspaper’s correspondent in the central district of Narsingdi, was attacked and beaten with an iron bar by the local leader of the ruling Awami League’s student wing on 25 September over a report implicating him in several cases of extortion. Zakaria has been repeatedly threatened in the past over similar stories.
Aboul Assad, the editor of Dainik Sangram, a daily that supports the Islamic opposition party Jamaat-e-Islami, was arrested at his home in the Dacca neighbourhood of Maghbazar by members of the Rapid Action Battalion, a special crime prevention unit, on 20 September.
His arrest came one day after clashes between police and Jamaat-e-Islami protesters who had been demanding the immediate release of five party leaders who had been arrested for war crimes allegedly committed during Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971. Assad’s lawyer, Mohammad Abdur Razzak, said Assad was freed on bail on 23 September.
Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the leading opposition party, firmly condemned Assad’s arrest and called for the withdrawal of the “trumped-up” charges brought against him. On the day of his arrest, Federal Union of Journalists members protested against his “baseless” detention by forming a human chain outside the National Press Club.
The staff of Bangla News 24 (http://www.banglanews24.com/English/), a bilingual (English and Bengali) news website, were threatened at the time by members of Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing who had participated in violent clashes with the police. Bangla News 24 editor Alamgir Hossain said he had received email threats.
Mohsin Ali, a reporter for Dainik Bhorer Dak and Dainik Mathabanga in the western district of Meherpur, was seriously injured when members of a criminal gang went to the school where he also works early on the morning of 26 September and beat him with iron bars.
The attack came just hours after Dainik Mathabanga, a local daily, ran a front-page story about the arrest of drug traffickers in possession of contraband medicine. Ali was hospitalized but doctors said his life was not in danger.
Ikramul Kabir, a reporter for privately-owned Somoy Television, and Dijen Singh, his cameraman, were attacked by members of a criminal gang in the northeastern city of Sylhet on 18 September. The attack was prompted by a Somoy Television report about the gang’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking and the black-market sale of train tickets.
The police said Kabir and Singh were attacked while filming earthquake damage at the main Sylhet railway station, which is regarded as the gang’s “territory.” The gang apparently took advantage of their presence to take revenge for the report. Kabir was hospitalized for 24 hours for treatment to head injuries from being hit by sticks and iron bars. The journalists filed a complaint and identified one of their attackers, who was arrested.
Reporters Without Borders already voiced concern about violence against journalists by the Rapid Action Battalion and media freedom violations by members of the government in a release on 15 September (http://en.rsf.org/bangladesh-is-government-really-interested-in-15-09-2011,40990.html).