Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF) and the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) protested today against new organised attacks on the media by government supporters, calling for them to stop and for those responsible to be punished.
"The government’s press freedom policy has proved to be totally ineffective to judge by these renewed attacks on journalists directly involving militant supporters of the ruling party," said RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard in a joint letter to Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia. "The government must end the impunity enjoyed by those, including its own camp, who physically attack journalists," said the president of the BCDJC.
Since Begum Khaleda Zia came to power, more than 80 journalists and photographers have been attacked or threatened with death by supporters of the ruling coalition built around the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islam. Between 20 April and 2 May, two journalists were brutally attacked, six received death threats and several news-stands were vandalised.
At the beginning of May, the press club in the southern town of Motbaria was attacked by BNP supporters, who fled when police arrived. A suit was filed by a BNP activist against the club’s president, Salam Azadi, and its secretary, Mizanur Rahman Mizu, for having distributed photocopies of articles from Dhaka newspapers which they said libelled lawmaker Rustam Ali Farazi and the prime minister. Some dailies in the capital had reported that a girl had been raped by the lawmaker’s brother. Government supporters then attacked news-stands and told vendors that if they sold or distributed copies of three papers, Dainik Janakantha, Dainik Ittefaq and Prothom Alo, their houses would be burned down. Some copies were seized and burned.
On 2 May, six daily newspaper journalists - Delwar Hossain (of Dainik Purbanchal), Sheikh Ahsanul Karim (Dainik Manab Zamin), Rezaul Karim (Dainik Ittefaq), Babul Sardar (Dainik Janakantha), S.M Tajjudin (Dainik Prabartan) and Azadul (Dainik Runner) - were reportedly threatened with death by Sheikh Wahiduzzaman Dipu, secretary of the local BNP branch in the southwestern town of Bagerhat. All the journalists made formal complaints. The BNP official is also said to have threatened to blow up the offices of one of the papers, Dainik Purbanchal. Some of his men went to the journalists’ homes with guns and frightened their families.
Jahangir Alam Akash, correspondent in the northern town of Rajshahi for the daily paper Dainik Sangbad, was attacked and stoned by BNP activists on 30 April on his way to a nearby village to cover the visit there of a human rights group investigating repression by BNP supporters in the region. He was injured, but managed to escape and return to town, where police refused to receive his formal complaint specifically mentioning he had been attacked by BNP supporters. The journalist had written articles about BNP repression of the region’s minority Hindus.
On 20 April, Neaz Mohammad Khan Bitu, correspondent in the eastern town of Brahmanbaria for the Dainik Dinkal, was attacked by members of the BNP’s student arm, Jatiyatabadi Chattra Dal (JCD). The paper had recently published an article that annoyed the local BNP secretary-general, Haji Syed Emran Reza. As the journalist was on his way to a school, the JCD official grabbed him by the scruff of the neck.
When Bitu went to lodge a complaint with the police, he was asked to write it down, but this was not accepted and the officer phoned Reza. That evening, armed men sent by Reza broke into the offices of the daily Dainik Projabandhu, dragged the journalist outside and kicked, beat and stabbed him. He was left for dead and taken to hospital. Police arrested several suspects over the next few days, but Reza was not troubled.
Reporters Without Borders will shortly publish a report on its recent 3-10 March fact-finding mission to Bangladesh.