Violence against journalists, especially in the provinces, undermined the ability of the press to freely cover key subjects such as human rights violations, corruption and the collusion between politicians and organised crime. Not a day went by without a journalist being physically attacked or threatened with death.
The government, including Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, exploited patriotism to make the public believe that certain Bangladeshi and foreign journalists were trying to destabilise the country by investigating the rise of Islamist movements. The editors of the most independent daily newspapers and TV channels were threatened with arrest in July 2003 for investigating arms trafficking involving activists from two of the ruling coalition’s parties. According to the authorities, religious violence was not a problem and there were no radical movements in the country. Anyone contradicting that position was liable to be persecuted with the encouragement of the Islamist and conservative press, which was prone to every kind of excess. Mahfuz Anam, the editor of the respected Daily Star, said Bangladesh’s politicians asked journalists to write positive articles but made no effort to govern well themselves when in power. In what is the world’s most corrupt country, according to the independent NGO, Transparency International, the press therefore found it hard to probe this cancer that is invading all areas of the state and society.
The government’s acute paranoia compounded the recurring violence against journalists. With at least 210 journalists physically attacked or threatened with death, 15 news organisations and press clubs attacked, and 15 journalists arrested in 2003, Bangladesh was by far the world’s most violent country for the press. The only good news was that no journalist was killed just for doing their job in 2003. But Reporters Without Borders registered at least 15 attempted killings.
The endemic violence against journalists is a serious threat to press freedom in Bangladesh. In the month of July alone, a correspondent for the daily Prothom Alo escaped a murder attempt in Natore, a journalist with the daily Manavzamin was badly beaten on the streets of Dhaka, a correspondent for the daily Janakantha was threatened with death, the offices of a local daily were ransacked by thugs working for the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), a journalist was detained because of an article on corruption, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Janakantha’s editor, five journalists with commercial TV stations were interrogated by the police, a reporter for a local newspaper in Narayanganj was physically attacked by ruling party supporters, a correspondent for a national daily was kidnapped, seven journalists in the town of Pirojpur were threatened with death, and a foreign magazine was banned because of an article about the Koran.
The provincial correspondents of some 70 national newspapers including Prothom Alo, Janakantha, Jugantor and Ajker Kagoj constantly complained of harassment and violence, which prevented them working freely. Janakantha’s correspondent in Barisal, Shawkat Milton, was unable to continue residing in Barisal during the latter part of the year. Ruling party activists burned an effigy of Milton and threatened to cut off his hands. Some of the most serious violence took place in the districts for which the justice and interior ministers are the elected representatives. The activists, especially those from Jatiyatabadi Chattra Dal (JCD), the BNP’s student wing, and the criminal gang members who targeted journalists claimed they were protected by members of the government. Impunity encouraged more violence. In most killings and attempted killings, the police were unable to identify those who carried them out and what their motives were. Let alone identify who were behind them.
The state television, radio and news agency were at the ruling party’s service. Ceremonies attended by the prime minister received extensive coverage. On the other hand, the BNP’s leaders for the first time decided that only two of the 29 ceremonies organised for the anniversary of BNP founder Ziaur Rahman’s death in 1981 should be broadcast. The April launch of a new terrestrial television channel, NTV, helped the government to make the public forget the enforced closure in 2002 of the private channel ETV, which was considered too sympathetic to the opposition. NTV was not critical of the government, observers said.
The government continued to be selective in the placing of state advertising in 2003. The purchase of advertising space depended not just on a newspaper’s circulation but also on its political line. The authorities placed advertising in 177 Dhaka publications and 188 provincial publications between October 2001 and March 2003. They therefore had a safe and regular source of financing. The conservative daily Inqilab received the most state advertising, followed by the pro-governmental daily Dinkal and the newspapers Ittefaq and Jugantor. The independent newspaper Janakantha was denied state advertising during this period, largely because it refused to carry a supplement prepared by the government in November 2002.
The government refused to grant visas to two Reporters Without Borders representatives in January, when the organisation’s correspondent, Saleem Samad, was in prison.
NOTICE: The huge number of physical assaults and threats against journalists - often more than two day - has prompted Reporters Without Borders, with its partner organisation in Bangladesh, the BCDJC, to set up an Observatory to monitor press freedom violations.
New information on a journalist killed before 2003
The entire case file of the investigation into the July 2000 murder of Janakantha’s correspondent in the western city of Jessore, Shamsur Rahman, was found by the army at the home of the mayor’s son-in-law in early January 2003. The son-in-law, a BNP supporter, was suspected of providing information to those who instigated and carried out the murder in order to help them avoid arrest. A new investigation resulted in Farazi Azmal Hossain, a journalist and friend of Rahman, being charged with the murder in September. Rahman’s widow said this was just a new scheme to steer attention away from the real perpetrators, who were protected by local BNP leaders.
A journalist abducted
Atahar Siddik Khasru, a journalist with the daily Ittefaq and press club president in the southeastern town of Sitakunda, went missing on 30 April after protesting about police and BNP harassment of his friend and colleague Mahmudul Haq, editor of the magazine Upanagar and correspondent for the pro-Islamist daily Dainik Sangram. Haq had been accused of extortion and harassment by local BNP leader Nurul Islam, a charge he denied. Haq said he had also been targeted by police after publishing articles accusing them and certain politicians of corruption. On 29 April, Haq’s home was ransacked by BNP activists. Khasru’s family claimed that Khasru, who had received telephone threats shortly before his disappearance, was kidnapped by BNP activists because of his support for Haq.
Khasru was previously kidnapped and held for about two weeks in June 2001 because of articles he had written alleging links between organised crime and the naval construction industry in Sitakunda. Police briefly arrested three suspects in this earlier kidnapping but no charges were brought against them.
A complaint was filed against Islam and three other BNP members on 6 May accusing them of responsibility for the kidnapping. About 30 journalists marched through the streets of Sitakunda the same day to demand Khasru’s immediate release and the arrest of his abductors. The protest was broken up by a group of thugs armed with bamboo sticks. Haq had meanwhile gone to Dhaka with the aim of asking the police authorities there to intervene in Khasru’s abduction. But he was arrested in Dhaka on 6 May and charged with extortion.
Khasru was found alive near Sitakunda on 21 May, with his hands and legs chained. He was hospitalised with cuts on his back, legs and hands, and bruises all over his body. He told the press that his abductors kept him blindfolded in a dark room. He was kept tied up and two masked men watched him all the time he was detained. He said he was beaten with metal rods and slashed with blades. Although he never saw the faces of any of his abductors, he gave the names of several suspects to the police who interrogated him. He named BNP leader Islam as the person responsible for his kidnapping.
Five journalists imprisoned
Dilip Kumar, a correspondent for the daily Prothom Alo in the northern town of Nikli, was arrested at his home on 3 March by Kishoreganj district police as a result of a complaint by BNP members accusing him of "attacks" and "vandalism." He had just written an article about violence and fraud in the recent local elections in Kishoreganj. This had angered local BNP leaders who had concocted the complaint in order to have him imprisoned. He was set free on bail on 8 March after five days in the Khishoreganj district prison. His release was the result of a meeting between a delegation of local journalists and the district police chief.
Akkas Sikder, a journalist with the Daily Ajker Barta and a correspondent for the Daily Bhorer Kagoj and the official news agency BSS, was arrested at police headquarters in Jhalakati district on 30 July. Although he had been summoned to the deputy inspector’s office, he was taken to Kotwali police station and then to the local detention centre. A judge refused twice, on 2 and 4 August, to free him on bail. In his newspaper reports, Sikder had accused police superintendent Sheikh Hemayet and the former office in charge of Jhalakati police station of corruption.
Hiramon Mondol, the correspondent of the daily Dainik Prabartan in the southwestern city of Khulna, was beaten and imprisoned on 8 August after writing about a case of theft in which police were allegedly involved. Members of "spider web," a special police unit that is meant to combat organised crime and extreme-left activists, beat him with batons, hockey sticks and rifles, took him bound hand and foot to Paikgacha camp, and then transferred him to the infirmary of Khulna prison. He was accused of theft and prosecuted under a "rapid trial" procedure that ties the hands of the defence. Despite supporting the government, Mondol’s newspaper defended his integrity on 16 August. The police brought six witnesses to his trial, which began on 1 September, but the judge ruled that the special unit failed to produced sufficient evidence and dismissed the charges. Mondol was freed on 20 September.
Photographer Selim Jahangir of the national daily Janakantha and the local paper Sonali Dangbad was arrested in the western city of Rajshahi on 1 November while taking pictures of an altercation between police carrying out ID checks and a person who complained of police harassment. Jahangir was detained after being told to leave by a magistrate, Abdul Majid, who was taking part in the operation. Police seized his camera, mobile phone and motorcycle.
A judge refused to release him on bail the next day. The authorities told his lawyer he was charged with endangering the magistrate’s life, disobeying his orders, and being unable to show his driving licence and papers for the motorcycle, which police accused him of stealing. Local journalists’ organisations staged a protest march on 2 November calling for his release. A judge finally freed him on bail on 10 November but maintained the charges of disobeying the magistrate and putting his life in danger.
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the editor of the weekly entertainment magazine Blitz, was detained by police at Dhaka airport on 29 November as he was about to leave on a trip that would have taken him to Israel. A judge gave police permission to hold him for seven days at police headquarters, where secret service officers tried to get him to admit to spying for Israel. Choudhury had recently been named head of the Bangladeshi branch of the International Forum for Literature and Culture for Peace (IFLAC), which links writers who campaign for peace. As such he was to have participated on 1 December in a symposium in Tel Aviv held by the Hebrew Writers Association, delivering an address on how the media in Islamic countries could help pave the way for peace in the Middle East.
His participation would have been a first for a Bangladeshi journalist. Bangladesh and Israel have no diplomatic relations and Bangladeshis do not have the right to travel to Israel. The secret services claimed that the documents found in his briefcase, especially the text of his speech and reports about the human rights situation in Bangladesh, were evidence of spying on behalf of Israel. A few hours after his arrest, police seized all the computer equipment, including printers and CD-ROMs, at the offices of his magazine and at his home. IFLAC president Ada Aharoni told Reporters Without Borders by telephone that her organisation has no links with the Israeli authorities and that she condemned Choudhury’s detention.
Four journalist released in 2003
Shahriar Kabir, a freelance journalist and human rights activist, was released on the high court’s order on 7 January 2003 after being held for a month. He was arrested in a crackdown on government opponents in December 2002 and was charged with trying to destabilise the government because of articles in which he openly criticised the prime minister’s policies. Kabir said he was mistreated while held and described Bangladesh’s judicial system as legalised oppression.
University academic and columnist Muntasir Mamun was released from the Dinajpur district prison on 9 January on the high court’s orders and was taken to a Dhaka hospital. He told the press he was held in filthy cell and was interrogated while blindfolded by police who accused him of writing too much. He had been arrested on the night of 8 December 2002 and held under article 54 of the criminal code and the Special Powers Act. The high court on 9 February ordered the government to stop harassing Mamun, Shahriar Kabir (see above) and Saleem Samad (see below). The judges ruled that these journalists could not be arrested without a warrant. The judges also ruled that they had the right to travel freely inside Bangladesh and abroad. The police had confiscated the passports of Kabir and Samad at the time of their arrest.
Saleem Samad, a freelance journalist and Reporters Without Borders’ correspondent, was released from Gazipur prison north of Dhaka on 18 January, after 50 days of detention. His release came four days after the high court ruled that his detention under the Special Powers Act was illegal. The police and intelligence agencies were unable to find any evidence against him and had done everything possible to hold up the judicial system. He had been arrested on 29 November 2002 in Dhaka for working for two reporters with the British TV station Channel 4.
His family, especially his wife and son, were harassed by the police during his period of detention. On 1 January 2003, he was transferred in the utmost secrecy from Dhaka prison to Gazipur prison. Police had tortured him during his initial period in custody. At the same time, Islamist newspapers such as the daily Inqilab and Sangram had continued to accuse him and other journalists of being accomplices to an "international conspiracy" against Bangladesh. On 31 December 2002, Sangram, Inqilab and Manavzamin ran identical articles accusing Samad of being an agent for the Indian intelligence services.
After his release, Samad noticed that his home in Dhaka was again being watched by police. He said his phone was also tapped and his family was routinely monitored by the intelligence agencies. When he took part in a book fair on 2 February, he noticed that plain-clothes police were trying to eavesdrop on his conversations. "I fear that the government will harass me again and try to implicate me in conspiracy cases," he told Reporters Without Borders. Samad resumed writing articles and gave interviews for the international press in which he described the torture he underwent while held. The high court ordered the government to stop harassing him on 9 February.
Enamul Haq Chowdhury, a journalist with the official news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and a stringer for the British news agency Reuters, was released from Dhaka central prison on 5 March after being held for more than 11 weeks. He had been arrested on 13 December 2002 for his reports on the bombings in four cinemas in the city of Mymensingh six days earlier. The authorities did everything possible to prevent his release on bail, which was twice ordered by the high court. One of his lawyers, Tanjib-ul Alam, told Reporters Without Borders a week before his release that he feared that his client would be arrested again if he were freed on bail.
Chowdhury told a Dhaka magistrate on 16 March that the police tortured him while he was in their custody. He said they blindfolded him with a black cloth, applied electric shocks to his body and threatened to shoot him with a revolver held to his temple if he did sign a statement they had written for him. When he refused, the torture began again. At one point, he almost lost consciousness and collapsed to the ground. These torture sessions took place from 12 to 16 December 2002. In the confession he finally signed, dated 17 December 2003, Chowdhury admitted to putting out false information about the cinema bombings with the aim of harming the interior minister. The confession said he did this at the request of opposition leader Saber Hossain Chowdhury. But he told the magistrate that the confession was not his. He said he was not even allowed to read it and no one told him what it said. The magistrate took a note of his request for the confession to be retracted. But no date had been set for any hearing by the end of the year.
Three journalists detained
Javed Mostafa, a correspondent for the daily Dainik Jugantor in Savar (near Dhaka), was arrested on 25 April 2003 on a charge of writing inaccurate and biased reports designed to favour a group of businessmen including media owner Nurul Islam Babul, who was imprisoned the same day. Mostafa was freed on bail after several hours.
Iqbal Morshed Ripon, a correspondent for the TV channel ATN Bangla in the northern city of Bogra, was detained and interrogated by police for three hours on 28 June after reporting on the air that an arms consignment was discovered in the city. Ripon had said two activists from two of the smaller parties in the ruling coalition - Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jatiya Party - had been arrested on suspicion of involvement in a plot to ship the arms to India. The report angered the social welfare minister and other Jamaat-e-Islami leaders, who had brought a complaint against ATN Bangla and Channel-I, accusing them of broadcasting lies. Farzana Rupa, an ATN Bangla reporter in Dhaka, was subsequently summoned and interrogated by police on 3 July.
Azibur Rahman, a correspondent for the daily Dainik Al-Ameen in the southwestern town of Benapole and an activist with the opposition Awami League, was arrested at his home on 3 July, taken to a court in the nearby city of Jessore, and charged in connection with an alleged business dispute with the ruling BNP. Journalists in Benapole attributed his arrest to articles he had written accusing BNP members of embezzlement. Rahman was freed on bail after a few hours.
At least 95 journalists physically attacked
Hannan Sarker, a reporter with the magazine The Dialogue, was attacked by a band of thugs while on assignment in the village of Vogra (in the district of Gazipur) on 5 January 2003.
Hye Milon, a correspondent for the daily Dainik Jugantor, and S. A. Sohel, a correspondent for the daily Dainik Manavzamin, were returning home by motorcycle in the central town of Rupganj on 10 January when BNP local branch secretary Aminul Islam blocked their way and began to beat them. A report in the daily Prothom Alo said a police patrol heard the journalists’ cries and intervened. Islam was detained in the local police station and the two journalists filed a complaint against him. The local press said Islam had been angry about reports they had written on his many love affairs. After the attack, a band of thugs threatened them with reprisals if they did not withdraw their complaint against Islam. Five correspondents for the major national dailies were then attacked on 12 January, reportedly with the support of a Bhulta police officer who supports Islam, Abu Bakkar Siddiqi. Nineteen local journalists called on the prime minister and the Narayanganj district police chief to guarantee their safety.
Members of a criminal gang attacked Swapan Kumar Dey, a correspondent for Prothom Alo in the district of Maulavibazar, on 3 February and tried to kidnap him. The gang’s chief, Jafar Ahmed Gilman, threatened to "present his family with his corpse within two weeks."
Apurba Mitra, Prothom Alo’s correspondent in the Islamic University of Dhaka and the university press club secretary, was attacked by a group of student activists belonging to Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, a member of the ruling coalition. He was rescued by university guards and police who had been alerted by the university. The activists fled when the police arrived.
Rafiqul Tuhin, a correspondent for the daily Janakantha in the northeastern city of Habiganj, was about to set off on his motorcycle from the offices of the local newspaper Dainik Bani on 1 March, when he was savagely attacked by a score of Jamaat-e-Islami supporters armed with knives and hockey sticks. He was hospitalised with serious injuries to the back of his head, his hands and knees. A few days before, he had received death threats after reporting that a Jamaat-e-Islami activist was allegedly involved in a rape case. None of Tuhin’s assailants was arrested despite protests by his colleagues in Habiganj.
Mojjammil Haque, a journalist with the local press in Nasirnagar (northeast of Dhaka), was attacked on 4 March by a local official who objected to Haque’s reporting on irregularities in the local administration.
Four policemen beat up five journalists at the entrance to a Dhaka hospital on 4 March. The attack occurred after Monir Hossain, the daily Sangram’s correspondent at the hospital, was attacked by individuals claiming to be journalists. Colleagues of Hossain intervened and his assailants were detained by police. But then Abu Saleh Akand of Sangram, Osman Gani Babul of the news agency ABAS, Latif Rana of the daily Mawroze and Abu Sufian Titu of Bangladesh Today caught the policemen in the process of negotiating a bribe for the release of the detainees. When the reporters protested, the police beat them with their batons. With the help of the Crime Reporters Association, the injured journalists obtained the suspension of the four policemen.
Sharif Shahabuddin, a correspondent for the newspaper The News Today, was attacked by group of assailants as he was returning home by car on the evening of 8 March near Dhaka. He had been receiving anonymous threats by telephone for several days prior to the attack. He filed a complaint with the police about the incident, but no action was taken.
Bidhan Krishna Sarkar, a correspondent for the newspaper Ajker Kagoj in Bamna (Borguna district), was roughed up by members of a gang on 12 March after reporting on a drug case.
Abul Kalam Biswas, the newspaper Dinkal’s correspondent in the central town of Manikganj, was attacked by gang members while out reporting in the nearby village of Chanka in mid-March.
Samidul Haq, a journalist in the northwestern town of Sherpur who works for the local weekly Sherpur, was attacked by gang members on 28 March.
Mainul Islam Subuj, a journalist with a local newspaper in the southern city of Barisal, was physically attacked by two local politicians on 9 April.
Imamul Haq Shamim of the daily Independent and Mustaq Ahmed Masud of the daily Jugantor were attacked by members of Jatiyatabadi Chattra Dal (JCD), the student wing of the ruling BNP, on 11 April at Dhaka university.
Sakil Mahmud Bachu, a journalist with a publication in the southern city of Barisal, was hit by a local JCD leader on 16 April.
Mahmudul Had, a journalist with the newspaper Sangram in the southeastern city of Chittagong, was beaten up by a group of BNP activists on 29 April.
Pronobh Roy of the daily Sanbad and Sipon Ahmed of the local newspaper Khobarer were attacked on 1 May in Narayanganj by members of a gang led by Reza Ripon.
Didarul Hossain, a journalist with the Daily Star in the southeastern city of Chittagong, was injured in an attack on 6 May by presumed criminals led by an individual identified as Rafiq.
Ujjal Biswa, a reporter with the daily Bhorer Kagoj in Chittagong, was beaten on 9 May by two individuals who objected to his articles on their business activities.
Bholanath Das, a correspondent for the newspaper Ajker Kagoj in the southwestern town of Nalchiti, was attacked and injured on 10 May by a leader of Jubodal, a movement allied with the ruling BNP.
Hasib Rahman, a correspondent for the daily Jonokatha and the news agency UNB, was attacked on 12 May by presumed criminals on a street in the southern city of Bhola.
Muazzem Hossain, a journalist with the daily Dinkal in the southwestern city of Bagerhat, was attacked by gang members on 16 May.
Two journalists who work for the newspaper Jugantor in the northeastern city of Sylhet, photographer Takul Rana and reporter Sangram Singha, were intercepted on a road by drug traffickers on 11 June and taken before their leader, who made them sign a blank sheet of paper and threatened them with reprisals before setting them free. Jugantor had published a report on drug trafficking in Sylhet a few days before.
Abul Bashar, a correspondent for the daily Janakantha, was attacked by about 10 armed members of the JCD and Jubodal - two wings of the ruling BNP - on 19 June in the southern district of Shariatpur. Bashar was writing a report on JCD extortion when they burst into his office and took him to the local BNP headquarters. There they beat him and threatened him with their revolvers. Bashar received injuries to his spine, head and eyes and had to be hospitalised, but armed BNP members went to the hospital the next day and forced him to leave. Despite warnings he would be killed if he went to the police, Bashar filed a complaint with the Shariatpur police on 23 June. Although several witnesses identified the JCD local branch president, Ruhul Amin Munsi, as one of the assailants, no arrests were made.
Jitendra Nath Roy, a correspondent for the daily Jugantor, and Arifin Sahid, a correspondent for the newspaper Ajker Kagoj, were attacked and injured on 26 June in the southern town of Boufal by members of a criminal band who apparently wanted to punish them for writing about their activities.
Correspondents for the conservative and Islamist newspapers Dinkal, Inqilab and Banglabazar Patrika at Jahangirnagar university, near Dhaka, stormed the premises of the Jahangirnagar University Journalists Association (JUJA) on 7 July with the help of activists from the JCD (a wing of the ruling BNP). They accosted JUJA president Jakirul Islam, a journalist with the Bangladesh Observer, threatened to kill him and his wife, and forcibly ejected him from the premises. Dinkal correspondent Sirajul Islam was then named as the JUJA’s new president. Following the incident, the university authorities closed the JUJA’s office.
Dulal Ghosh of the daily Prothom Alo and Monir Hossain of Subuj Bangla were attacked by drug traffickers on 13 July in the western town of Akhaura while investigating smuggling by local criminal gangs.
Akramuzzaman, a journalist with the publication Loksamaj in the western city of Jessore, was beaten on 13 July by members of an extreme-left armed group and had to be hospitalised.
Gunmen fired on Muktar Hossain, Prothom Alo’s correspondent in the northern town of Natore, on 19 July but he was not hit. Hossain thought the shooting was prompted by a recent article about collusion between some local police officers and criminal gangs. The police protected his house for several days after the shooting, while Prothom Alo sent a reporter from Dhaka to look into the presumed murder attempt.
Members of a criminal gang attacked Shafiq Shahin of the daily Manavzamin with hockey sticks in the Dhanmondi neighbourhood of Dhaka on 20 July, seriously injuring him in the head and back. He had just written a report about the racketeering activities of this gang, which claims to be linked to the BNP. The police detained the head of the gang, known as Ripon, the same day but released him within 24 hours.
Members of Jubodal (a movement linked to the ruling BNP) attacked S. M. Titu of the local daily Sachetan in the city of Narayanganj, south of Dhaka, on 27 July because he asked about the arrest of a Jubodal activist at the police station while they were there seeking the activist’s release.
Jahangir Alam Akash, a correspondent for the daily Sanbad in the western city of Rajshaki, was riding his motorcycle on 29 July when he was intercepted and abducted for an hour by a group of men. They blindfolded him and took him to an isolated place where they struck him, insulted him, threatened him with a firearm and told him to stop writing critical articles, without naming any of his articles in particular. Akash did not recognise his aggressors but assumed they were political activists.
Jahid Hasan Tusher, a correspondent for the Daily Star newspaper in Dhaka university, was attacked with an iron bar on 31 July by student members of the JCD (a movement linked to the ruling BNP), who threatened him with further reprisals if he continued to criticise them in his reports. They also told him to leave his room at the university for good. He was seriously injured in the back and hand.
In August, some 30 opposition activists attacked Ataur Rahman, a correspondent for the daily Sangbad and press club president in the district of Narsingdi, near Dhaka. A member of the ruling party’s student wing, Rahman managed to flee to the nearest police station.
S.S. Sagar, a journalist in the southwestern district of Bagerhat, was attacked on 6 August by a group of criminals he had been investigating. After regional newspapers carried reports about the attack, the same group attacked Sagar again and threatened to kill him within three days. He fled the district for several weeks.
A group of presumed criminals attacked Enamul Hossain Sabuj, the Gramer Kajog’s bureau chief in the western city of Jessore, on 19 August because of a report about illegal gambling.
Police attacked Ujjal Biswas, the Bhorer Kajog’s correspondent in the southeastern city of Chittagong, as he was trying to take photographs of a racketeering operation on 21 August. Some 15 police officers tried to grab his camera, insulted him and tried to detain him.
Firoz Ali of the local daily Sylheter Dak and two members of his family were attacked by some 20 armed men who burst into their home in the northeastern city of Sylhet on 22 August and stabbed Ali several times. The motive for the attack was not known.
H. M. Amin, a correspondent for the press agency United News Bangladesh and the daily Ajker Kajog in Keraniganj, south of Dhaka, was attacked by a group of armed men on 22 August after reporting on their illegal activities. The assailants apparently intended to kill Amin, who was seriously injured.
Saiful Islam, a reporter for the local daily Janmabhumi in the southwestern city of Khulna, was physically attacked on 23 August by a local elected official and his associates after writing a story accusing them of stealing wheat through the government’s food for work programme.
The correspondents of the Daily Runner, Porobartan and Probahah in the southwestern city of Khulna were beaten by police while covering a demonstration on 7 August.
Ataur Rahman, Sangbad’s correspondent in Narsingdi, northeast of Dhaka, was beaten on 12 August by members of the JCD and Jubodal, two movements linked to the ruling BNP.
Sheikh Mustafa Zaman, a journalist with the daily Sangbad in the southeastern town Gopalganj, was attacked on 15 August by suspected criminals led by an individual identified as Anayat Hossain.
A local state employee in the northeastern city of Sylhet assaulted Firoz Ali Khan of the local newspaper Sylheter Dak on 22 August after he wrote an article about embezzlement in a state-owned bank.
H. M. Amin, a correspondent for the daily Ajker Kagoj and the news agency UNB in Keraniganj, near Dhaka, was beaten by presumed criminals on 22 August.
Shiblee Noman, a journalist with the local daily Upachar in the western city of Rajshahi, was attacked on 26 August by five armed activists because of articles he had written about their activities. Noman filed a complaint.
Enamul Hasan Sabuj of the daily Gramer Kajog, which is based in the western city of Jessore, was attacked in the street on 2 September while researching a story about illegal gambling. He had to be hospitalised.
Nine journalists working for national dailies were injured, camera equipment was damaged and film was destroyed when lawyers attacked news photographers as they took pictures of an incident inside the lawcourt in Dhaka on 6 September. Those injured were reporter Russell Akhter of Bhorer Kagoj and eight photographers - Mohammed Hasan of Bhorer Kagoj, Subir Kumar of Ajker Kagoj, Shafiqul Alam and Indrajit Ghose of News Today, Feroz Chowdhury of Prothom Alo, Mahbub Hossain Nabin of Jugantor, Shambu Nath Nandi of the Bangladesh Observer and Shafiqul Islam of Bangladesh Today. Two of them were taken to hospital.
Saiful Islam Jahangir, the editor of the weekly Rangpur Barta in the northern city of Rangpur, was crossing a street with another journalist on 13 September when he was attacked by four men who hit him on the head with an iron bar. He was taken unconscious to hospital. The reason for the attack was not known.
Belal Khosru, the daily Sangbad’s correspondent at Jahangirnagar university, near Dhaka, was badly beaten by eight JCD activists on 15 September after writing critical reports about violence by JCD members.
M. Faruque, the daily Ittefaq’s correspondent in the Sreepur sub-district north of Dhaka, was attacked on 23 September by a group of truck drivers demanding the right of response to an article he wrote accusing them of extortion. They led him by force to a shop so that he could send their reply by fax. Around 10 men then beat him up and stole his mobile phone and money. He was taken to hospital.
Local JCD leaders forced their way into the press club in the western town of Jibon Nagar on 15 October, attacked three journalists who were there and damaged furniture. They then brought trumped-up accusations against four journalists at the nearby police station.
The owner of a road transport company attacked Sattar Azad of the daily Prothom Alo in the eastern city of Sylhet on 15 November, threatening him with reprisals if he wrote about the company’s activities again.
Mosharaf Hossain Kamal, a journalist in Hizla in the southern district of Barisal, was badly beaten on 16 November as he tried to call for help from a public telephone booth after his home was ransacked and some of his family members were hit. Several Hizla journalists reported that his assailants were BNP members who were exacting retribution on Kamal for providing national dailies with information about them.
Abdur Rahman Milton of the daily Gramer Kagoj was beaten by a local leader of the independence war veterans association on 25 November in the mid-west town of Shailakupa.
Dozens of members of the ruling BNP and its youth wing, Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal, used violence to prevent journalists from holding a meeting in the press club of the southern town of Jhalakati on 8 December, injuring Manabendra Batobayal of the daily Sangbad, Azad Alauddin of the daily Daikinanchanl, Shamim Ahmed and Shamim Azad of the daily Bhorer Kagoj, Akkas Sikder of Dainik Arthaniti, Mominul Islam Mehdi, the chairman of the Barisal Lawyers Association, and a driver who had brought journalists from nearby Barisal to the meeting.
In the course of the attack, some 10 journalists were trapped for several hours inside the press club premises because the BNP activists barred the doors. The activists also damaged the vehicles used by the journalists from Barisal. The police, who had asked the journalists to cancel their demonstration, did not intervene to stop this violence. The offices of the local daily Shatakantha were ransacked the same day, and BNP members threw stones at the home of the newspaper’s editor, Zahangir Hossain Monju, and cut his telephone lines. Monju had helped organise demonstrations in support of journalists who had been attacked.
The press club meeting had been called to protest against an attack two days earlier on Humayun Kabir of the regional Dakhinanchal in Jhalakati, in which BNP members clubbed and stabbed him to "punish" him for a report about Mir Ziauddin Mizan, the local head of the BNP and Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal. Kabir was hospitalised for several days.
Ataur Rahman, the daily Prothom Alo’s correspondent in the northwestern city of Dinajpur and general secretary of the city’s press club, was beaten and insulted by a ruling party official and his wife on 13 December. Rahman had accused him of abuse of authority in an article.
Salekuzzaman Salek, the daily Dinkal’s correspondent in the northeastern town of Rangpur, was badly beaten by thugs while covering a government demonstration on 15 December. He had just written an investigative report on the region’s famine which contradicted an earlier report in the newspaper Ittefaq based on the official version.
A group of suspected criminals in the southwestern town of Satkhira attacked Abdul Jalil of the local daily Kafela on 27 December, robbing him of various personal items including his camera. The newspaper had just run an article and photo about the illegal sale of protected birds
Bakhtiar Islam Munna, a correspondent for the daily Ittefaq in the southeastern town of Feni, was the target of a second murder attempt on 28 December, five days before he was due to testify in the trial of those accused of attacking fellow journalist Tipu Sultan (see above). A home-made bomb was thrown at him as he was about to enter his home. The blast damaged the road surface but Munna took cover and was not hurt. He said he would no longer testify for fear of further reprisals. Sultan accused the defendants in this high-profile case, who were free on bail, of trying to eliminate the witnesses.
Shafiul Huq Mithu, the daily Janakantha’s correspondent in the southern town of Pirojpur, sustained serious injuries to the head and back when attacked by three BNP activists as he was returning home from the town’s press club on 28 December. Passers-by detained a suspect and handed him over to the police who, however, failed to establish the motive for the attack.
At least 98 journalists threatened
A local businessmen made death threats against Probhir Sarkar, a correspondent for the newspaper Janakantha in the central district of Faridpur, on 22 January 2003. Sarkar filed a complaint with the police.
Owners of brickworks threatened Budhya Jyoti Chakma, a correspondent for the daily Prothom Alo in the southwestern district of Bandarban, on 3 February because he had written that they were destroying forests to get wood for their ovens. One of the owners uttered the threats openly, on the street.
Monirul Islam Liton, a journalist and press club president in Sherpur, received death threats on 7 February from a presumed criminal known as Alamin.
Journalists in the southern city of Barisal who had written about violence during legislative elections in the region were threatened by parliamentary representative Matiar Rahman Talukder on 8 February. Three other Barisal journalists, Bahadur Khan of the newspaper Akjer Kagoj, Khairul Alam Bulbul of the daily Prothom Alo and Shaha Buddin Panna of the newspaper Ittefaq, were also threatened the next day.
Two correspondents in the southeastern district of Gopalganj, Sajidur Rahman Saju of the newspaper Manavzamin and Wahid Rulu of the daily Shamol, were threatened by an alleged criminal known as Shoeb in mid-February because of articles about illegal logging in the Srimongal region.
Jasimuddin Subuj, the daily Jugantor’s bureau chief in the southeastern city of Chittagong, was threatened with death on 19 February by a local leader of the JCD (a movement allied to the ruling party).
Journalists Bhidhan Sarkar and Mati Anand received death threats on 20 February in the southwestern town of Barguna from a criminal gang led by individual known as Shiplo because of their reports about his brother, who was wanted by the police.
Local politician Shamsul Huq threatened to kill Dalwar Hossain of the newspaper Jugantor on 2 March in Haji Barek (a district of Dacca) because he had just written an article criticising Huq’s political movement.
Saiful Alam Safi, a journalist and head of the press club in Rawajn, near the southeastern city of Chittagong, was threatened with reprisals by presumed criminals on 3 March.
BNP activists forced their way into the home of Faisal Ahmed Bablu of the daily Jugoveri in the northeastern city of Sylhet on 3 March, searched it from top to bottom, but failed to find Bablu, who was not there. They turned on his parents instead, threatening to come back and him a hiding. Bablu had upset the BNP by writing several articles about the violence that marred the municipal elections in Sylhet.
Russel Akhter of the daily Bhorer Kagoj received death threats by telephone in Dhaka on 5 March while investigating a case of violence against journalists.
Saiful Alam Safi, a national daily correspondent in the southeastern town of Rawjan, spent the entire month of March in hiding after receiving death threats. He had been investigating a kidnapping case.
Shawkat Milton, a correspondent for the newspaper Janakantha, left his home in the southern city of Barisal on 12 March after learning that local police had received a warrant for his arrest from Dhaka. He told Reporters Without Borders he went into hiding for fear of arrest. The nature of the charge against him was unknown. Janakantha had run several articles by him about coming municipal elections in which the candidates included Mujibar Rahman Sarwar, a leading BNP parliamentary representative and associate of the interior minister. Shawkat had accused Sarwar of heavy-handed methods in the election campaign, angering Sarwar and other local BNP leaders, who had apparently responded by getting the arrest warrant issued.
Manirul Islam Dablu, a local newspaper reporter in the western town of Natore, was threatened with reprisals at the end of March by Tofazzal Hossain, a leader of the JCD (a wing of the ruling BNP), because of an article about a case involving drugs.
A police officer in the northwestern city of Noagaon tried to intimidate Imtiaj Alam of the daily Sangram on 14 April.
A group of suspected criminals threatened to kill Abu Hanif, a correspondent for the daily Jugantor, in mid-April in Narsingdi, northeast of Dhaka.
A BNP leader accompanied by young gang members threatened to kill Saiful Islam, a journalist with the daily Dinkal in the southeastern city of Chittagong, on 3 May.
Two journalists in the southeastern city of Chandpur were threatened with reprisals on 9 May by a local elected official who objected to their reports about his administration.
Habibur Raghman, a correspondent for the newspaper Jonokatha and the news agency UNB in the east-central town of Narayanganj, received death threats from unidentified persons on 14 May.
Prothom Alo reporter Nur Siddique was threatened by JCD secretary-general Sirajul Islam on 30 May in Dhaka.
Members of the fundamentalist group Shibir threatened Rafiqul Hasan Tuhin, a correspondent for the newspaper Janakantha in the northeastern city of Habiganj, on 31 May.
Tipu Sultan, a reporter for the national daily Prothom Alo, received a threatening telephone call from former opposition Awami League parliamentarian Jaynal Hazari while he was visiting his family in the southeastern town of Feni in June. His family and fellow journalist Bakhtiar Islam Munna were also subjected to threats and harassment. Munna was one of the witnesses of an attack on Sultan in January 2001 in which associates of Hazari broke Sultan’s hands. Hazari was formally charged as the instigator of that attack in April 2003. Twelve others were charged at the same time. Police detained six of them but the others, including Hazari, could not be found and were said to have left the country. The trial of three of the defendants began on 21 August. A petrol bomb was thrown on 10 November at five Feni-based journalists who had witnessed the attack on Sultan - Bakhtiar Islam Munna, Shahjalal Ratan, Osman Harun Mahmud Dulal, Muhammad Jalal Uddin and Asaduzzaman Dara - but it missed its target. This attack came a few days after the five testified in court.
Mukhlasur Rahman, Prothom Alo’s correspondent in Dhamrai, near Dhaka, received a death threat from local BNP secretary Delwar Hossain on 21 June. Parliamentarian Ziur Rahman Khan, who was present, also threatened Rahman, who had just said in an article that a local party’s new president was coming under heavy pressure from the BNP.
On 22 June, the head of a local crime group in the southeastern city of Chittagong insulted and threatened the daily Sangbad’s correspondent, whose report on the group’s activities in the region had made the newspaper’s front page.
Ahsan Habib, a correspondent for the daily Janakantha in the northern town of Rajbari, received death threats in a telephone call on 2 July from a man calling himself Ekdil as a result of an article three days earlier about the arrest of extremists in the neighbouring region of Pangsha. Habib requested police protection.
Four individuals linked with the ruling BNP party burst into the offices of the local daily Dainik Shoja Shapta in a district near Dhaka on 8 July, threatened journalists present and tried to ransack equipment. Police were dispatched but managed to arrest only one of the intruders.
Employees of a factory in the central town of Manikganj threatened Matiur Rahman of
the daily Ajker Kagoj with reprisals when he was investigating the factory’s situation on 7 July .
The correspondents of seven national dailies in the southern town of Pirojpur on 9 July received death threats in identical anonymous letters saying: "You will pay very dearly for obstructing our activities and forcing us to go into hiding." The style resembled that of armed groups of the extreme-left, but the threatened journalists suspected that the letters came from local businessmen involved in a corruption scandal they had reported.
Shafiqul Islam, a correspondent for the newspaper Ajker Kagoj in the northwestern town of Jaipur Hat, was threatened in mid-July by a local leader of the JCD, a wing of the ruling BNP.
A businessman threatened Gonesh Pal of the daily Dinkal in the southern city of Bagerhat on 28 July.
Rezaul Siddique, a correspondent for the daily Dinkal in the central city of Tangail, was threatened by a local elected official in early August because of critical articles he had written.
Arif Mahmud Munna, a reporter with a local newspaper in the southern city of Barisal, was threatened by a bank employee on 24 August.
Abu Noman Sajib, Prothom Alo’s correspondent in Rajshahi university, received telephone threats on 26 August.
Journalists in the southeastern district of Bandarban received death threats in September from the president of the local government for reporting about his private life and his alleged involvement in arms trafficking.
Reporter Nikhil Bhadra and photographer Abul Bashar of the local daily Sebok were hit by policemen during an opposition demonstration on 28 August in the southwestern city of Khulna, where the newspaper has often accused the local administration of corruption.
Imtiaz Alam, Sangbad’s correspondent in the northwestern town of Naogaon, was threatened by a group of drug traffickers on 3 September, a day after he angered them and the local authorities by claiming in a report that local law officers were organising the drug trade in Naogaon. He was stopped on his way home and threatened with prosecution for false accusations if he continued to write about drug trafficking. He was also told he could be killed. Alam reported the incident to the police. All of the town’s journalists called for an immediate response from the authorities.
Janakantha’s correspondent in the southwestern city of Khulna was threatened on 13 September by members of the Communist Party of Eastern Bengal.
Afza Hossain, the daily Ajker Barta’s bureau chief in the southern district of Bhola, received death threats on 19 September in the district’s lawcourt from armed members of an organised crime group led by Lal Mohan after reporting on their activities in his newspaper.
Ahmed Kabir, a reporter for the daily Ajker Kagoj in the southeastern city of Chittagong, was threatened on 30 September by a group of presumed criminals led by an individual known as Nasir.
A group of religious fundamentalists waged a campaign of intimidation against journalists in the town of Madaripur, in the central district de Faridpur, in October after articles were published in the local and national press reporting that they were involved in illegal paramilitary training activities. The journalists received threatening phone calls and were criticised in leaflets that circulated in the town.
A group of journalists in the southeastern city of Bandarban were threatened by a local civil servant on 7 October.
Journalists in the district of Tangail, near Dhaka, were threatened on 12 October by the principal of Balla Coronation school after they reported allegations that he was involved in corruption. He said he would sue them if they continued to libel him in this way.
The daily Janakantha reported on 16 October that two of its correspondents had been the target of threats. In the northeastern town of Habiganj, members of the fundamentalist group Jamat-Shibir had tried to intimidate Rafiqul Hassan Tuhin, who had previously been beaten with an iron bar and a hockey stick on 1 March. Tuhin received death threats in June after bringing a complaint against his attackers. In the central district of Tangail, leaders of the ruling BNP had threatened to cut off the legs of Firoz Manna, who had written an open letter to the prime minister criticising six of the local BNP leaders.
H. M. Ershad of the daily Jugantor in the eastern town of Teknaf was subjected to extortion and threats by gang members on 18 October after he tried to investigate their contraband activities. They also took his camera, video camera and cash. The town’s journalists immediately held a meeting at the local press club to publicly condemn the incident.
BNP activists threatened Nijamul Alam Murad, a correspondent for the daily Ajker Kagoj in the southeastern city of Gopalganj, at the end of October.
When two journalists in the northern district of Narail went to the local hospital seeking information in November, they were threatened by a senior staff member.
Fahku Azam Palash, a reporter for the newspaper Ajker Kagoj in the southern district of Bhola, was threatened by delta pirates on 6 November after writing in local and national newspapers about their criminal activities and their clashes with police.
Buddha Jutiya Chakma, a reporter for the daily Prothom Alo in the southeastern district of Bandarban, was the target of threats and an attempted attack by a member of the fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami on 7 November, a few days after reporting that four local Jamaat-e-Islami leaders had illegally obtained public works contracts.
BNP members targeted Abul Hossain of the local daily Dristipat in the southwestern town of Shatkhira on 22 November after he accused them of trafficking in humans across Bangladesh’s border with India.
BNP activists, especially Mashiur Rahman, the local leader of its youth wing, Jatiyatabadi Juba Dal (JJD), began preventing distribution of Janakantha in the southern city of Patuakhali on 23 November after it ran articles accusing JJD members of protecting drug traffickers and involvement in other criminal activities. Hundreds of copies of the Dhaka-based national daily were burned and news vendors were threatened with reprisals if they continued selling it. The BNP also threatened Janakantha’s regional correspondent, Shawkat Milton, saying they would "cut off his hands" and burning his effigy in public. As a result, Milton was forced to leave the district. Patuakhali is controlled by the ruling party and Rahman claims he is the "assistant" of interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, its parliamentary representative.
Kamruzzaman, a journalist with the local daily Anchar in the Dhaka district of Sivar, was harassed by a merchant and his associates at the end of November after he began investigating allegations that members of the family were involved in the abduction and rape of a female employee. The journalist’s camera and ID card were stolen.
The daily Sangbad’s correspondent in the western town of Gopalganj received a death threat from a local criminal organisation on 28 November after writing about abuses suffered by Hindus.
Sudhanya Gharami, a journalist based in the eastern town of Kotalipara, received a death threat from businessman Abdul Malek Sardar on 29 November after writing several articles accusing him of illegal activities.
In Narsingdi (near the capital), the owner of a factory where a worker died from mistreatment threatened to kill M. A. Awal, the editor of the local newspaper Narsingdir, and threw him out of the factory on 18 December when Awal tried to obtain information about the worker’s death.
Harassment and obstruction
In an exchange of New Year greetings on 1 January with the Dhaka press club, foreign minister Moshed Khan called on journalists to work together for the cause of the nation and said he appreciated the media’s response to campaigns by Bangladesh’s enemies in 2002. At a round table on national and international media aggression towards Bangladesh on 9 January, Khan called for a line of defence against anti-Bangladeshi propaganda and claimed that the news media enjoyed complete freedom compared with those in other developing countries. A few days later, he said Bangladesh had been hurt by "malevolent propaganda" orchestrated from inside and outside the country with the aim of proving that it was home to terrorism, fundamentalism and Taliban-inspired groups, and he called on journalists to combat this campaign in their articles.
At a meeting of the Jatiya press club on 15 January, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia called on the news media to oppose press "terrorism" and criticised opponents and journalists who produced propaganda against the government and Bangladesh. Asked about the use of violence and harassment by members of her party against journalists, she claimed that her government protected press freedom and had no intention of acting against the interests of the news media.
On 18 January, the government ordered the TV stations Channel-I and ATN to include two of the news bulletins of the governmental channel BTV in their programming. A journalist with one of the commercial channels said this was a way for the government to increase its influence over Channel-I and ATN by "undermining their independence and credibility."
On 18 February, information minister Tariqul Islam ruled out any possibility of a new licence for the privately-owned Ekushey Television (ETV) - except if its owners decided to change its name. Banned by the current government since August 2002 , ETV had obtained its terrestrial channel licence from the previous government by means of corruption, Islam insisted in a parliamentary address. He announced that the state TV channel Bangladesh Television (BTV) and the state radio Bangladesh Betar would be granted autonomy. BTV’s autonomy was supposedly guaranteed in a law adopted by the former government in July 2001, but the law was never implemented. The minister also announced that a new terrestrial channel, called National Television (NTV), would be launched in April. Most its journalists and technicians were former ETV employees. NTV would predominantly be given over to news and current affairs, he said.
At a meeting of the Bangladesh Photojournalists Association (BPJA) on 19 February, the prime minister and information minister called on the country’s news photographers to produce and publish "more positive" pictures and criticised newspaper for carrying too many photos of crimes and corpses.
Beginning on 20 March, the government imposed restrictions on the state-owned media’s coverage of the war in Iraq. News about the war and reactions in Bangladesh were to be handled "with prudence." The Daily Star said that, after repeated requests by the US embassy in Dhaka, the foreign affairs minister asked the state-owned radio Bangladesh Betar, the governmental TV station Bangladesh Television and the official news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) not to dwell on pro-Iraqi statements and the anti-American protests taking place.
Several commercial TV stations, in particular JTV and ITV, were refused terrestrial broadcast frequencies in April although they had already obtained government permission to broadcast. Some observers thought the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) was stalling for economic reasons. "Personally, I am convinced this type of channel is not financially viable," an information ministry official said. But, more probably, the government was defending the state-owned BTV’s monopoly against commercial channels which, like ETV in 2002, could be very successful.
The Dhaka home of Mohamed Atikullah of the daily Janakantha was demolished on 13 March on the orders of the municipal authorities. Atikullah claimed that he was being punished for his critical reporting.
An alleged trafficker known as Ahsanullah brought a fabricated complaint in March against Amir Hossain of the daily Dinkal, Salim Reza of the newspaper Ittefaq and Sirajuddin of the daily Bhorer Dak after they investigated his involvement in the trafficking of petrol in the port of Mongla (in Khulna district).
The interior ministry gave orders for the surveillance of 50 persons suspected of "conspiring against the state" in April. They included many writers and journalists such as Shariar Kabir, Abed Khan, Muntasir Mamun, Toab Khan, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Tofail Ahmed, and Reporters Without Borders correspondent Saleem Samad. Their telephones were tapped and the police regularly monitored their activities.
Abdus Salam, the chairman of Ekushey Television (ETV), filed a motion with the supreme court in early May to obtain the return of all of the ETV equipment that was confiscated in September 2002 after the channel was banned. The government had undertaken in September 2002 to return the equipment within four weeks. On 1 July, the high court gave the government two weeks to give its reasons for not returning the equipment.
The Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) rejected the request made by ETV’s owners for a new broadcast licence on 7 June. ETV appealed against the decision to the high court, which asked the BTRC to explain the reasons for its refusal on 22 June.
A Dhaka judge on 11 June issued warrants for the arrest of Daily Star editor Mahfuz Aman, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman and the secretary-general of the opposition Awami League, Abdul Jalil, in connection with the libel suit filed by an adviser to the prime minister over a letter by the Awami League leader that was published in the two newspapers. The two editors were released the same day.
A series of warrants for the arrest of independent news media editors and managers were issued in July. The editors of the newspapers Prothom Alo, Daily Star and Jugantor and the editor, managing editor and editorial counsellor of the daily Janakantha were prosecuted for libel as a result of complaints brought by members of the conservative and Islamic parties in the ruling coalition over reports about the discovery of an arms consignment in the northern city of Bogra. Many news media had reported that members of two of the parties in the ruling coalition had been arrested for their involvement in a murky case of arms trafficking between Bangladesh and India. The government and opposition then accused each other of being behind the trafficking. In an effort to get proof against the journalists (or elements for use in fabricating evidence), the secret police searched the premises of the commercial TV stations Channel-I and ATN Bangla in Dhaka. Previously, information minister Tariqul Islam personally telephoned the directors of the two TV stations to ask them to stop broadcasting reports about the arms consignment. Investigators interrogated senior staff of the two stations at great length on 3 July.
The government announced at a seminar organised by the information ministry and the National Institute of Mass Communication on 3 July that it had begun drafting a law to regulate the broadcasting of TV programmes by satellite. Information minister Tariqul Islam said control had to be imposed on the satellite culture. The contamination of alien culture had to be cut short, he said. The obscenity of certain foreign TV channels opposed to Bangladesh’s glorious culture and customs would be censored, Islam added.
Housing and public works minister Alamgir Kabir forcibly expelled journalists from a meeting of the committee on public security in Rangpur on 19 July after a journalist said the security situation had deteriorated in the region. The minister insisted that the contrary was the case.
The government banned the "sale and distribution" of Newsweek’s latest issue on 28 July claiming that an article entitled "Challenging the Qur’an" could offend the religious sentiments of the country’s Muslims. The article reported that a German linguist believed the Koran (or Qur’an) may have originally been written in Aramaic instead of Arabic and that this would explain a number of errors of interpretation about the veil, the reward given to martyrs and even the origin of the Koran itself. This was the third time in three years that Newsweek was banned in Bangladesh.
The university hospital centre in Dhaka denied entry to journalists on 20 August after a series of articles were published in the press accusing doctors of trafficking in false medical certificates. Journalists staged a demonstration outside the hospital the same day. Health and family minister Khandkar Mosharraf Hossain lifted the ban on journalists on 23 August. The management of the hospital in the southern district of Cox Bazar also issued a ban on journalists during office hours in November. They were also banned from taking photos in the hospital. These bans were issued after the local press reported that three patients died of pneumonia as a result of negligence.
Parimal Majumder, a reporter with the daily Bhorer Kajog, was questioned by police for more than three hours on 21 August at the newspaper’s offices about his investigations into arms trafficking between Bangladesh and India. The police wanted to know his sources, which Majumbder refused to reveal. The newspaper’s managing editor said the interrogation was designed to intimidate and discourage all journalists investigating this subject.
Suspected members of a criminal gang attacked the offices of the local newspaper Sathi in the southern city of Patuakhali on 4 September, wrecking equipment and threatening further reprisals of its journalist continued to write about them.
Reporters Without Borders revealed in September that the governmental Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had drafted amendments to the 2001 telecommunications law. Various sources said the proposed amendments were requested by the justice ministry and intelligence agencies on the grounds of "national security" and the "fight against terrorism," and could jeopardise the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. The intelligence agencies requested access to personal information in the data bases of Internet service providers. They also wanted to be able use the information they obtain from intercepting private e-mail messages - for the time being, illegally - as evidence in court. A Bangladeshi academic quoted by The Daily Star said the legalisation of e-mail interception could open the way to blackmail. The intelligence agencies also wanted to modify article 30 of the telecommunications law so that the confidentiality of telecommunications would be conditioned by "respect for national security laws" - a wording that was alarmingly vague about the extent of the powers the intelligence agencies wanted to assume.
A Dhaka magistrate on 2 November issued warrants for the arrest of Nurul Islam Babul, the owner of the big-circulation daily Jugantor, its editor, Golam Sarwar, and its managing editor, Salma Islam. They were accused of libelling public works minister Mirza Abbas in articles on 9 and 30 October which said the minister had been criticised by the prime minister and that he was alleged to be involved in a case of extortion in the transport sector.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, one of the leaders of the opposition Awami League, brought a lawsuit on 17 November against the managing editor of the daily Sangram, Mohammad Abul Asad, the newspaper’s editor, Shafiuddin Dewan, and its correspondent in the southwestern city of Khulna, Sheik Helaluddin, claiming that he was libelled in the newspaper’s 8 November edition.
Local leaders of the BNP’s youth wing brought a complaint against 10 journalists in the southern town of Jhalakati on 9 December, accusing them of "extortion" by means of false testimony. The day before, BNP activists had physically attacked several of these journalists outside the Jhalakati press club, prompting those in charge of the press club to file a complaint against their assailants. Anisur Rahman Swapan, the president of the reporters’ union of the nearby city of Barisal, accused the police of becoming an accomplice to the violence by registering the false complaint.
Later on 9 December, BNP activists ransacked a shop belonging to the family of journalist Akkas Sikder of Dainik Arthaniti. During the next two days, BNP activists and police searched dozens of homes in an attempt to arrest the ten journalists cited in the trumped-up extortion case. Some of the homes were ransacked. The wanted journalists fled to Dhaka where they obtained court release orders in anticipation of their possible arrests. BNP activists meanwhile banned local distribution of the dailies Janakantha and Dakhinanchal and their local correspondents, especially Shawkat Milton, were told they could no longer reside in the district. Journalists in the region responded to this harassment by stepping up their protests, and black flags were hung outside the offices of news media.
The spokesman of a grouping of fundamentalist parties on 12 December threatened to "not spare" news media that defend the minority Islamic movement Ahmadiyya. The fundamentalists had just launched a campaign to have Ahmadiyya banned and its members declared "non-Muslim." When making his threat, the spokesman named the president of the National Press Club and Sadeq Khan, a journalist with the newspaper Inqilab.
A supreme court official ordered journalists to leave the court building on 14 December during a hearing in the case of a high court judge implicated in criminal activity. Leaks had resulted in details of previous hearings being published in daily newspapers.