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Bangladesh 8 April 2004

Thirteen Maoist militants accused of murder of journalist Manik Saha

Thirteen militants of the banned Maoist party Purbobanglar are accused of the murder of journalist Manik Saha with the use of a home-made bomb on 15 January 2004.

The police officer heading the investigation, Asaduzza-man Farazi, gave notice of the charges to the chief magistrate of Khulna Court on 6 April 2004.

Four of the accused are already in custody. Two of them confessed to the killing, saying that the journalist had given the political group a bad image in his articles. They saw him as an "enemy of the proletariat". An arrest warrant has been issued against the nine others.

The interior ministry suspended the police officer previously in charge of the investigation on 7 February, accusing him of negligence. The ministry then ordered quick arrests of those responsible for the murder.

A journalist for the daily New Age and stringer for the Bengali service of the BBC World Service Manik Saha, was killed when a home-made bomb was thrown at him at Khulna in the south-west.

Eight journalists have been killed in this part of Bangladesh in the past seven years. He is the first journalist in the world to be murdered in 2004.

Saha died instantly when the bomb was thrown by unknown assailants who stopped the rickshaw in which he was returning home from covering a meeting of the opposition Awami League, via the press club of which he was president for several years. He was decapitated by the bomb. The bombers managed to escape but several people witnessed the attack. Police were called but made no immediate statement.

Reporters Without Borders and the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC) both expressed their horror at the murder of Saha. The two press freedom organisations called on the government, in particular the interior ministry, to take all possible steps to investigate the killing and punish the perpetrators.

Saha’s colleagues questioned by the BCDJC said the journalist knew his life was in danger. He had received death threats by telephone a few months earlier.

A former correspondent for the daily Sangbad in Khulna, Saha recently told the bureau chief of the BBC World Service in Dhaka that he felt himself to be under threat. He had been writing about the illegal activities of armed Maoist groups and local criminal gangs.

A delegation from Reporters Without Borders and the BCDJC went to Khulna in March 2002 after the murder of Harun-ur-Rashid, a journalist on the local daily Dainik Purbanchal. The delegation met Shaha, who briefed its members about frequent threats made against the local press by far-left groups, particularly of the Purba Bangla Sharbahara Party (PBSP), which, after years of armed struggle, had really turned themselves into criminal gangs.

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