Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) have expressed their grave concern about an attempt to kill journalist Belal Chowdhury and about death threats made to four other reporters by Islamic fundamentalists in Faridpur, west of Dhaka.
"Fundamentalists seem to hold sway in the city and journalists who try to openly defend the right to free expression are hounded and attacked without any reaction from the authorities," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard and BCDJC president Nayeemul Islam Khan in a letter to interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury.
The organisations called on the minister to take all necessary steps to end the violence and threats by fundamentalists against journalists. The two organisations which, along with other journalist groups, will go to Faridpur on 30 and 31 October on a assessment and solidarity mission, also urged police to move quickly to arrest those involved in the attempt to murder Belal Chowdhury.
Chowdhury, a reporter on the local newspaper Dainik Thikana, was physically attacked and beaten unconscious in a Faridpur market on 24 August by five people armed with machetes and axes. He was taken to the city hospital with 15 serious wounds and then transferred to a hospital in Dhaka, where his condition remains worrying.
His brother has filed a complaint with Faridpur police accusing three local criminals of the attack. Police have not so far made any arrests.
The attack on Chowdhury followed death threats by the Tuhidi Janata fundamentalist group against journalists supporting a local theatre group being harassed by fundamentalists and local authorities.
The Islamic militants persuaded local officials to ban the performance of a play called Khatha Krishnakhali on grounds of blasphemy and after street demonstrations by fundamentalists, the author and producer of the play were arrested. The actors have gone into hiding for fear of being detained also. People convicted of blasphemy risk the death sentence.
On 23 August, the fundamentalists began targeting journalists from the national dailies Janakantha, Bhorer Kagoj, Prothom Alo and Ajker Kagoj, who had reported these events and voiced support for the theatre group. Chowdury had criticised in his paper the call by the leaders of the fundamentalists for members of the theatre group and their journalist supporters to be hanged.
Prabir Shikder, Janakantha’s correspondent in Faridpur, has filed a complaint on behalf of the journalists who have been threatened. Shikder escaped an attempt to kill him in the centre of Faridpur in April last year but had to have his right leg amputated because of a bullet wound. He was attacked a few days after writing that businessman Musa-bin-Shamsher had been a "war criminal". Police did not complete their investigation of the attack and no-one was brought to trial.