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Bangladesh 25 November 2003

Ruling party activists threaten to cut off journalist’s hands

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) voiced outrage today at the renewed involvement of ruling party activists in violence against a journalist, this time against Shawkat Milton of the Bengali-language newspaper Janakantha in the southern city of Patuakhali, where they have threatened to cut off Milton’s hands and have prevented the newspaper’s distribution for the past three days.

"This behaviour must be punished because it is threatening press freedom," the organisation said in a letter to interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, the parliamentary representative of the constituency where members of the ruling BNP party have been staging these incidents. "It is your duty to call these BNP officials to order and ensure they are punished for breaking the law, even if they claim to have your protection," the letter said.

Milton has been the target of violence on several occasions in recent years and Reporters Without Borders is very worried about his safety.

Mashiur Rahman of the Jatiyatabadi Juba Dal youth movement and other BNP activists began blocking the distribution of Janakantha, a Dakha-based independent daily, in Patuakhali on 23 November. Hundreds of copies of the newspaper have been burned and news vendors are being threatened with violence if they sell it.

The activists also publicly burned an effigy of Milton, who is Janakantha’s correspondent in the region, and threatened to "cut of his hands." Milton has effectively been banned from the city.

The incidents were prompted by reports in the newspaper accusing Jatiyatabadi Juba Dal members of involvement in criminal activity, including providing protection for drug traffickers. Rahman, Jatiyatabadi Juba Dal’s leader, has been portraying himself as the interior minister’s assistant.

Distribution of Janakantha was previously banned in 1999 by officials of the Awami League (which is now in opposition) after the newspaper carried reports of illegal activities by Awami League members.

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