Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Bangladesh
As of December 31, 1998

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Although the constitution guarantees press freedom, Bangladeshi journalists face considerable risk in practicing their profession. Violent attacks have become disturbingly common, and death threats almost routine. Meanwhile, the government did little to ensure that those responsible for crimes against journalists were punished for their actions.

Many attacks were led by activists from the country's major political parties. Members of the student wing of the ruling Awami League, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, have repeatedly harassed and threatened correspondents who expose their often coercive political tactics at Dhaka University.

Because of authorities' failure to pursue investigations into such attacks, it is difficult to establish the motive for every incident. When Saiful Alam Mukul, editor of the Bengali-language Daily Runner newspaper, was murdered in August, it was unclear whether he was killed for publishing reports exposing local gang activity, political corruption, or the movements of guerrillas operating in the district. Financial difficulties -- stemming from the government's decision to stop advertising in the paper in February -- had forced the Runner to cease publication on June 16. Mukul was killed just two weeks after his August 15 announcement that he would relaunch the paper. His murder outraged the nation's journalistic community, and its timing sent a chilling message to those who would dare publish controversial reports of any kind.

Journalists who tackled religious issues also came under fire. In May, local officials in Jessore nearly shut down two newspapers for publishing articles that had apparently offended the Hindu and Muslim communities. And when the writer Taslima Nasreen returned to Bangladesh in September after years of living in exile, she was greeted by large-scale demonstrations staged by conservative Muslims, calling for her execution. She also faced charges for the "deliberate outrage of religious feelings."

Criminal defamation laws remain on the books, and are often used to harass journalists who write about politically sensitive topics. Although government officials have discussed replacing the arrest warrant with a court summons, most journalists are forced to endure arrest and post bail before their case, which then tends to languish interminably in the judicial system.

The existence of more than 500 newspapers and magazines is, however, evidence of a vibrant journalistic community. Local journalists vigorously protest attacks directed against the media, and there are a number of independent publications that continue to air sensitive topics. But in a country where three-quarters of the population are illiterate, electronic media remain most effective in reaching a broad audience. Radio and television are both still controlled by the government, and have been criticized for giving almost no news coverage to the political opposition.
Attacks on the Press in Bangladesh in 1998
Date Journalist Incident
11/18/98 Mufti Abdul Hye, Jago Mujahid, publisher and editor Imprisoned
11/18/98 Manzur Ahmed, Jago Mujahid, executive editor Imprisoned
11/09/98 Shafiuddin Bitu, Inquilab Attacked
11/09/98 Emran Hossain, Daily Star Attacked
11/09/98 Khaled Mahmud, Dainik Dinkal Attacked
11/09/98 Farhad Hossain, New Nation Attacked
11/09/98 Tarif Rahman, The Independent Attacked
11/09/98 Anisur Rahman, Daily Star Attacked
11/09/98 Shamim Noor, Ajker Kagoj Attacked
11/09/98 Nurun Nabi Robi, Dainik Janakantha Attacked
11/09/98 Sanjeev Basak, Dainik Muktakantha Attacked
09/25/98 Taslima Nasreen, free-lancer Threatened, Legal Action
08/30/98 Saiful Alam Mukul, Daily Runner Killed
07/26/98 Delwar Hossain, Dainik Dinkal Threatened
06/18/98 Abdullah Farooq, Sangbad Harassed
06/18/98 Dainik Muktakantha Attacked
06/18/98 Manav Zamin Attacked
06/18/98 Bhorer Kagoj Attacked
06/18/98 Daily Star Attacked
06/18/98 Ajker Kagoj Attacked
06/18/98 Banglabazar Patrika Attacked
06/09/98 Masud Ahmed, Manav Zamin Attacked
06/09/98 Abdul Aziz, Banglabazar Attacked
06/09/98 Faruq Ahmed Bakht, Dainik Dinkal Attacked
06/09/98 Nijamul Huq, Bhorer Kagoj Attacked
06/09/98 Mostfa Ahmed Chowdhury, Manuebarta Attacked
05/26/98 Manav Zamin Attacked, Threatened, Harassed
05/13/98 Dainik Purabi Legal Action
05/10/98 Dainik Lokesamaj Legal Action
04/20/98 Absar Uddin Chowdhury, Dainik Karnaphuli Imprisoned
04/20/98 Mamunur Rashid, Dainik Karnaphuli Imprisoned
04/20/98 Mofizur Rahman, Dainik Comilla Barta Imprisoned
04/20/98 Iqbal Ahmed, Dainik Muktakantha Imprisoned
04/20/98 Yasin Hira, Dainik Muktakantha Imprisoned
04/20/98 Dainik Karnaphuli Threatened
04/15/98 BTV cameraman Attacked
03/30/98 Hafizur Rahman Minto, Inqilab Attacked
03/18/98 Alam Raihan, Sugandha Kagoj Imprisoned, Attacked
03/18/98 Mozammel Hoq, Media Syndicate Threatened, Harassed
03/18/98 Shaukat Mohmood, Media Syndicate Threatened, Harassed
03/18/98 Jamal Hossain, Benapole Barta Legal Action
03/18/98 Bokul Mahbub, Benapole Barta Legal Action
03/18/98 Mohammad Ali, Benapole Barta Legal Action
02/05/98 AKM Bahauddin, Inqilab Legal Action
02/05/98 AKM Mohiuddin, Inqilab Legal Action
02/05/98 ASM Baki Billah, Inqilab Legal Action

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