Six journalists have been the targets of attacks and threats in the past nine days, in a continuing wave of violence against the media that prompted the European parliament to pass a resolution urging the Bangladeshi authorities to prosecute those responsible, Reporters Without Borders said today.
“The interim government’s job is to create the conditions for free elections, which should obviously include guarantees of security and freedom for the press,” the organisation said. “The European parliament has just stressed this very clearly in a resolution based partly on our reports. We call on President Iajuddin Ahmed to heed these calls and to take active measures to protect journalists.”
Impunity prevails in most murders of journalists, including the case of Gautam Das, the correspondent of the national daily Dainik Shamokal, who was killed exactly one year ago, on 17 November 2005, in the central city of Faridpur. The police named around 10 suspects but they have not been tried and some of them are still circulating freely near Faridpur.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes the resolution on Bangladesh P6_TA-PRO (2006) 0502 which the European parliament adopted on 16 November, asking the authorities “to put an end to the climate of impunity and to bring to justice the perpetrators of violence and harassment directed towards journalists.” It also urges the public media to cover the activities of all the different parties during the election campaign fairly, and calls for programmes to promote press freedom.
A week of violence for the press began on 13 November with Ansar Hossain, the correspondent of Dainik Amar Desh and the BDNews24 news agency, narrowly escaping a murder attempt at his home in Noniya Chara, near the southeastern city of Chittagong. He had been writing about the activities of a criminal gang.
Four journalists - Niamul Kabir Sajal of Dainik Prothom Alo, Babul Hossain of Dainik Janakantha, Mir Golam Mostafa of Dainik Shamokal and a photoreporter identified simply as Nuruzzaman - were attacked and beaten by local militiamen when they went to a village in the district of Hatilet, north of Dhaka, on 16 November to investigate reports of threats against members of the Ahmadiyah religious minority. After being hospitalized they filed a complaint and six of their assailants were arrested, but the leader is still at large.
Tuhinul Islam Tuhin, the correspondent of the daily Ittefaq at the university of Rajshahi, near Dhaka, received a death threat on 17 November because of a report he wrote about the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student movement that supports the Awami League. The student movement’s leader, Ibrahim Hossain Moon, had also threatened Tuhin the previous day, but had then apologised for doing so.
Subrata Deb Roy Sanjay, a correspondent for the dailies Dainik Khabor and Sylheter Dak, was forced to flee the Sylhet region in the northeast of the country after receiving death threats from Hazi Mujib, a businessman who supports the ruling BNP party. Before fleeing, he was beaten and his home was ransacked.
On 19 November, the electoral commission banned access to journalists who went to a preparatory session for the next general elections. No grounds were given. A similar ban had been imposed the previous week.
Despite the climate of violence against the press, the interior ministry on 18 November withdrew the police protection which six news media had been receiving in the southwestern city of Khulna since January 2004. The police said they did not have enough personnel. The media getting protection were the regional offices of Dainik Prothom Alo, Dainik Samakal, Dainik Jugantar and Dainik Amar Desh and two local newspapers. Several media personnel were murdered in Khulna in 2004 and 2005.
Reporters Without Borders condemned an attack on Hasibur Rahman Bilu, reporter on the Daily Star, Radio Today and radio Deutsche Welle, in Bogra, north of Dhaka, by militants belonging to a student organisation linked to the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The journalist needed hospital treatment for serious leg injuries after the militants beat him with bamboo canes on 22 November. For fear of fresh reprisals the journalist asked to be discharged to his own home.
His attackers accused him of writing articles critical of their organisation and Rahman Bilu confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that his articles were behind the assault. He added that police officers who were present at the scene failed to intervene to save him.