Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) urged donor countries meeting in Dhaka from 8-10 May in the framework of the Bangladesh Development Forum to link aid to an end to violence against journalists.
The Bangladesh government is asking the international community for a substantial increase in aid but has given no assurances about better governance and greater respect for press freedom. The European Union has already said it will use the meeting to insist on respect for human rights. Reporters Without Borders welcomed this stance but hoped it would not go unheeded.
Faced with the bad faith of Khaleda Zia’s government that refuses to recognise there have been human rights violations particularly in relation to press freedom, Reporters Without Borders is calling on donor countries to link aid to development of a specific action plan to bring an end to the violence.
Reporters Without Borders considers that this violence against journalists, particularly in the provinces, prevents the press from freely covering key subjects, especially collusion between politicians and organised crime, corruption and human rights violations. It can also obstruct the chances of international aid being used effectively. Recent World Bank studies have shown that press freedom is a determining condition for sustainable socio-economic development.
World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn, said recently, "Studies show that the higher the level of press freedom in a country the greater the control over corruption. Press freedom also has a positive influence on revenues, infant mortality and adult literacy."
Bangladesh currently combines two serious ills: It is the most violent country for journalists and one of the most corrupt. To benefit press freedom the government must end the impunity enjoyed by militants of the parties in power, particularly those from the BNP, who physically attack journalists.
With at least 210 journalists assaulted or receiving death threats, 15 newspapers or press clubs attacked and 15 journalists arrested by the authorities in 2003, Bangladesh is by far the most violent towards the press. There was no letup in abuses in 2004. On 27 April, journalist Sumi Khan of the weekly Shaptahik-2000 escaped an abduction attempt in Chittagong. She is known for her investigations into political life in this south-eastern city. On 4 April, the ministry of information wrote to the country’s’ journalists telling them to stop speculating on the origin of weapons found a few days earlier in the country’s south-east.