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Bangladesh 14 April 2006

Ruling party uses force to stop conference on press freedom

Reporters Without Borders today deplored threats by a ruling party MP and his supporters that forced cancellation of a conference about press freedom and demanded a public apology from him.

The conference, planned for 13 April in Debidwar (Comilla district, east of Dacca), was called off after threats from Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) MP Manjurul Ahsan Munshi, also head of the local party branch, and harassment of journalists and press freedom activists by his supporters.

“BNP militants who regularly threaten and physically attack reporters for what they write are now attacking those who defend press freedom,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “We demand an apology from Munshi for this latest violence and demand that he guarantee genuine press freedom in Comilla district.”

The conference, organised by the Debidwar press club, was to have discussed “torture of journalists in Bangladesh and other countries”. Among the scheduled speakers were Gaziul Hassan Khan, head of the government news agency BSS, Nayeemul Islam Khan, editor of the Daily Amader Shomoy and president of the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC), and Syed Akhtar Yusuf of the Daily Ittefaq.

Munshi first threatened the owner of the centre where the conference was due to be held and the press club then decided to hold the conference in front of their premises. As soon as it began, a dozen BNP militants used force to chase away journalists and others and seized all the equipment, including chairs and microphones. They said the club did not have their “permission” to hold the conference.

The journalists tried in vain to contact the district police chief. Local police had been told about the conference and security forces were present but did nothing to stop the militants.

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