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Bangladesh 11 May 2004

Journalist accused of murder after refusing to hand over incriminating photos of police

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) has protested after police accused a photo-journalist of murder after he refused to hand over photos he took of police firing at demonstrators at a polling station, killing two of them.

Freelance journalist Aurobindo Pal was arrested by police in the northern Mymensingh district on 10 May after he refused to hand over his negatives taken the evening before. To ensure he could not be bailed, they put him on a murder charge.

Reporters Without Borders said it was dismayed that yet again police had arrested a Bangladeshi journalist on a false accusation. It urged Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Moudud Ahmed to intervene with the relevant authorities to obtain the journalist’s release and the lifting of trumped-up charges against him.

The international press freedom organisation also called in its letter to the minister for the punishment of police officer Khohinoor Miah implicated in the arrest and other human rights violations, including the torture of the journalist Saleem Samad in 2002.

A riot broke out against security forces at a polling station in the town of Nandail on 9 May 2004, where local elections were being held. Police, on the order of Khohinoor Miah, fired into the crowd, killing two demonstrators and injuring at least 17 others. Pal took pictures of the police action.

Police turned up at his home that night to seize the negatives. Despite threats of reprisals, Pal refused. Police searched his home and one officer said he had been ordered to arrest him if he failed to comply.

Pal, who is deputy chairman of the town press club, is to appear before the Nandail court on 12 May. He cannot be released on bail because he is accused of murder under Article 302 of the criminal code. District administrator for Mymensingh district said that the chief of police had acted against his advice.

On the day of Pal’s arrest, the minister, Moudud Ahmed, told a meeting of donor countries that there was complete press freedom in Bangladesh and that journalists had been killed or attacked for reasons that had nothing to do with their work.

Representatives of the donor countries had asked the Dhaka government to act to improve the situation, pointing out that there could be no press freedom as long as journalists worked under threat.

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