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Bangladesh 3 April 2002

Islamist movements threaten the press

In a letter to Bangladeshi interior minister Altaf Hossain Chowdhury, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières - RSF) expressed its concern about threats and pressure by Islamist movement leaders against the independent media. "It is your duty to call to order political leaders of your ruling majority who violently threaten journalists", said Robert Ménard, RSF general secretary. "You should not be surprised to see articles in the international press on the Islamisation of Bangladesh when fundamentalist groups are allowed to openly threaten the independent press", he added. The organisation urged the minister to reinforce security around those journalists and media that requested protection.

According to information gathered by RSF, the Islamist movement Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon organised a demonstration on 29 March outside the Dhaka head-office of the newspaper Dainik Jugantor. Demonstrators protested against the publication by the daily of a text by writer Shelina Hossain. The leaders of Bangladesh Khelafat Andolon, who are militating for the establishment of an Islamic republic, said that the text had "injured" Muslims and that newspapers should prevent publication of such writings. The editor of Dainik Jugantor explained that the text was fiction and not an article by the editorial staff. They also apologised for the text having "hurt believers’ feelings". The author noted that her intention had in no way been to insult Muslims. The short story describes the rape of a young girl in a village.

On 23 March, Maulana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi, a member of parliament from Jamaat-e-Islami (a fundamentalist party in the coalition government), had already made violent remarks about journalists who "confuse Muslims as Islamists". He had demanded that "the blood of journalists be checked to see if they are Muslims or not".

image 80 x 91 (JPEG)    Reporters Without Borders notes that on 5 February 2002 a passer-by was killed and several others injured by the explosion of incendiary bombs thrown by Muslim fundamentalists protesting against the presence of journalist Shahriar Kabir in the south-eastern town of Chittagong. Over 300 demonstrators were gathered outside the town’s press club where Shahriar Kabir was addressing dozens of journalists, intellectuals and human rights militants. Shahriar Kabir was released on bail from Dhaka prison on 20 January 2002 after two months of detention, but is still charged with "sedition". The government accuses him of gathering information on violent acts by Muslims against the Hindu minority.

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