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World Press Freedom Review
2000 World Press Freedom Review
Over the last year there has been an intensification in the number of violent attacks on journalists and, with two bloody murders, Bangladesh appears to be beset by a number of serious problems which threaten to obliterate press freedom in the country. Although willing to pursue those who would attack journalists, the government has shown little interest in attempting to change underlying attitudes towards the media. Furthermore, its failure to afford protection to journalists, who are in fear of their lives, has only served to indicate that the country is often ambivalent to press freedom. There are also fears that this attitude may have contributed to the belief within certain sectors of Bangladesh society that the press are fair game.
On 1 January, a number of individuals from the student-wing of the ruling party forced their way into the offices of the daily Banglabazar Patrika in the capital city of Dhaka. Apparently, they were searching for the newspaper’s Dhaka University correspondent, Anwar Hossain. Upon seeing Hossain leaving the office, they made threats to kill him. The group of students was led by the president of the Chattra branch of the ruling Awami league, with its headquarters at Dhaka University. Hossain was accused of having published a news item damaging the student president’s image and mentioning that a rival group had assaulted him. Later in the day, the same group of students attacked Anwar-al-din, staff reporter for the Ittefaq daily, on the Dhaka university campus. Once again threats were made that he would be killed.
Three days later, on 4 January, the Azadi newspaper, in the port of Chittagong, was the target of a bomb attack. Eyewitnesses said two attackers had thrown a bomb at the window of the first floor of the newsroom. Fortunately, the window prevented the bomb from hitting its intended target. Subsequently, the unidentified individuals threw a second bomb at the vehicle of the newspaper’s managing editor. The attackers then ran away. Police arrived at the scene more than one hour after the incident had occurred.
On 5 January, two journalists were assaulted by the student wing of the opposition party in Munshiganj, a district town close to Dhaka. The local Chattra Dal leader attacked Zakir Hossain Sumon-Srinagar, a correspondent for the Ajker Kagoj daily. Sumon-Srinagar had been accused of publishing a news item against the student group. When Sumon-Srinagar was attacked, a senior journalist, Shafi uddin Ahmed, tried to rescue him but was also beaten by the student group. Both journalists received treatment at the local hospital. Shafi uddin Ahmed is an award winning journalist and former president of the Bangladesh Journalists Association.
In one of the most serious attacks this year, Mir Illais Hossain, publisher and editor of Danik Bir Darpan, was shot and killed in Jhenaidah by three masked attackers. Hossain, who was killed on 17 January, was the leader of the leftist party Sramajibi Mukti Andolon and had been receiving death threats from Maoist underground movements. Prior to his death he requested police protection but it was not provided.
Towards the end of January, there were a number of further assaults that showed that violence against journalists was increasing in Bangladesh. On 24 January Munirul Islam Litton, a correspondent with the Dainik Janakantha in Sherpur, central Bangladesh, received death threats by post signed by criminal gangs accusing him of publishing articles about a criminal gang’s swindling and smuggling. Furthermore, on 30 January, Shahadat Hossain Bacchu, correspondent with Bhorer Kagoj and general secretary of Bagerhat Press Club, was assaulted, receiving serious injuries. His attackers accused him of publishing articles regarding legal action involving the gang. The spate of press freedom violations continued on 30 January when Moshin Hossain Babul, editor and publisher of Ajker Sathkira, was assaulted in Sathkira. Babul was threatened with further attacks if he continued to report on the group’s activities.
Aside from assaults on journalists there were also a number of attempts to silence the media in this year. On 7 March, another publication close to the Bangladesh National Party, the weekly Evidence, was forbidden from being distributed free to public offices. On the following day, police raided the offices of the newspaper Dainik Dinkal, one of the most important newspapers controlled by an opposition party. During the raid, policemen insulted the editorial staff and damaged equipment.
After completing an initial search of the offices, the police produced arrest warrants from the Narayanganj Court magistrate against the three managing editors of the newspaper and a reporter. However, the newspapers employees, editor Akhter-ul-Alam, managing editor A.K.M. Mossaraf Hossain, publisher Majidul Alam and the daily's Narayanganj district correspondent were not arrested during the raid. The appearance of the police at the offices of the Dainik Dinkal followed a criminal suit for "insults" filed on 27 February by A.K.M. Shamim Osman, a member of parliament for the Narayanganj district. The politician condemned the daily for publishing articles about alleged links between criminal gangs and the municipal authorities.
On 10 March, Mohiuddin Murad, a journalist with Dainik Janakantha was arrested for "incitement to violence and rebellion". The Lakhipur police accused Murad, of inciting students to attack policemen after a security agent entered the school to identify students who were cheating. According to colleagues of the journalist, Murad did not incite violence but only protested against the security agent's misconduct. Moreover, the witnesses brought forward by the prosecution were mostly police officers who appeared to lack objectivity. A magistrate who also witnessed the incident was not included on the witness list, even though he openly testified to the journalist's innocence.
During the evening of 28 March, Nur Muhammed, a correspondent with the daily Manavjamin and the general secretary of the press club in Karimgonj, was kidnapped. The assailants attempted to shoot him but he was rescued and two of his attackers were later arrested. The reason for the attack is believed to stem from the publication of an article in the daily Manavjamin on 26 March which described how a female student was insulted by her classmate. Apparently, the boy was later banned from attending school. As a result of the school’s decision, the accused boy and two of his friends kidnapped Muhammed at gunpoint and tried to shoot him but local people rushed to the scene and rescued the journalist. The assailants were able to get away with approximately US $12 which they snatched from the journalist. A report was filed at the local police station and two of the guilty individuals were later arrested.
On 2 May, three photojournalists were beaten by police and one of them seriously injured. The incident occurred at the Dhaka University campus while the photojournalists were photographing a procession of the university's female students. When the procession tried to enter the university vice chancellor's house, the photojournalists attempted to take their pictures. At that moment, a police sergeant named Haider ordered his constables to attack the photojournalists. The police came at them with batons and Sergeant Haider hit one of the journalists in the face. After the incident, the government took immediate action and Haider was suspended from his job.
On the same day, police in the district town of Kushtia caused damage to the home of Tariql Haq Tariq, the district correspondent for the daily Prothom alo. According to reports, while Tariq was out of his home, local police raided and looted his home in Courtpara and damaged his property. The police officers were not carrying a warrant and did not have a warrant with them but local sources said that the police were annoyed by some of Tariq's recent reports on the law and order situation. The Kushtia police superintendent, the local police chief, stated that he regretted the police action.
In the second murder of this year, Shamsur Rahman Kebol, a special correspondent with the newspaper Janakantha, was shot dead in Jessore on 16 July. The murder occurred as the journalist was working at his office. Apparently, as the journalist sat at his desk, two unidentified men entered his office and fired two bullets at him. One bullet entered his chest while another hit the journalist in the head. He was alone in his office at the time. Kebol was rushed to Jessore general hospital where doctors later declared him dead. The journalist had earned a reputation for being an expert on Indian politics and had a thorough knowledge of the smugglers' syndicate active on the border with India. Kebol had also investigated extremists and was the leader of the Jessore Union of Journalists. Prior to his death, Kebol had received several death threats from the smugglers' syndicate as well as from extreme leftist groups.
On 6 October Ekramul Haq Bulbul, a journalist with Dainik Prothom Alo, was attacked and injured by armed men and forced to flee the town of Lakhipur, in the province of Chittagong. Bulbul was investigating the involvement of the mayor of Lakhipur, Abu Taher, in the disappearance of Nurul Islam, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Prior to this attack, on 4 October, Sheikh Mamunur Rashid, a reporter with Dainik Manabzamin, received death threats while investigating the disappearance of Islam in Lakhipur. Apparently, police and town officials raided the hotel where Rashid was staying and threatened him with "reprisals". In another incident, Taher threatened to "break the limbs" of journalists who implicated him in the disappearance of Islam and told the reporters "to leave the town or face very dire consequences". The attacks on the journalists come at a time when state politicians appear to be cracking down on the media.
In an example of the pressure journalists are under in Bangladesh, state minister for social welfare Mozammel Hossain issued an order to his party members and local administration stating, "Wherever you will find journalists, break their bones." Less than 24 hours after this statement was printed in the media, a group of individuals under the leadership of local Union boss, Asadul Haq, attacked the offices of local daily Satkhira Chitra.
Towards the end of the year, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused the Bengali-language daily newspaper Inqilab of treason for publishing a parody of the Bangladesh national anthem. M. Mainuddin, director of the Inqilab Group of Publications, is currently in jail under Bangladesh's notorious Special Powers Act. Inqilab editor A.M.M. Bahauddin, and publisher A.S.M. Baki Billah, face multiple treason charges, as does the author of the parody, A.S. Mosharraf. It also appears that the office of the prime minister has applied pressure on the judiciary in order to prevent the individuals from being given bail.
The behaviour of the government in November towards the Inqilab newspaper provides an indication of how much harassment and intimidation the media suffer in Bangladesh. On 6 November, the ruling Awami League Working Committee met at Prime Minister Hasina's residence and decided to take action against Inqilab for publishing the amended anthem. A week later, on 13 November, the Home Ministry filed its own complaint with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in Dhaka accusing the individuals from the newspaper of sedition which, in some instances, carries the death penalty. Subsequently, the media workers were arrested.
Having for the time being dealt with the offending media employees in the sedition case, the government then turned its attentions on the Inqilab. On 20 November, Abdul Hasnat Abdullah, an Awami League official, announced at a meeting organized by party officials in the southern town of Barisal that the newspaper was banned in the southern region. On the following day, the supporters of the ruling Awami party destroyed 900 copies of the newspaper. After these attacks, on 22 November, Awami supporters burnt 4,000 copies of the Inqilab and a mob attacked the newspaper’s offices on the 28 November.
Media Watch was a primary source for the above article
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