Journalists in Danger in Bangladesh

CPJ Concerned Over Growing Trend of Violence and Censorship


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Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina Wajed
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Dhaka, Bangladesh

 Join CPJ in protesting the growing
threat to journalists in Bangladesh.

Send a fax to: 011-880-2-813-244

 

24 June 1998

 

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned over a number of recent attacks that raise serious questions about freedom of the press in Bangladesh. The attacks represent nearly the full spectrum of dangers that journalists face -- everything from state-sponsored censorship to extragovernmental violence. We are particularly alarmed about the following recent incidents:

On 10 May, the Deputy Commissioner of Jessore issued a show-cause notice to Dainik Lokesamaj, and on May 13 a similar notice was delivered to Dainik Purabi. The two daily newspapers were required to prove that they should not be banned for their publication of articles that had offended both the Hindu and Muslim communities. The district administrator in Jessore issued the notices even though each newspaper had apologized for the articles and succeeded in appeasing the religious groups that had initially protested them.

For some time now, journalists in Bangladesh have been agitating for the repeal of laws that grant district administrators press-licensing authority and the power to arbitrarily cancel licenses. According to our sources, administrators routinely issue arrest warrants against publishers, editors, and printers -- often before even conducting investigations to determine wrongdoing. Although, in the case of Purabi and Lokesamaj, threats to close down the papers were never carried out, CPJ hopes that such attempts at press intimidation will not be tolerated by your government, and we ask that you follow through on the press freedom commitments you made when you were elected by repealing statutes that leave journalists vulnerable to such abuses of power.

On 26 May, a band of about 30 young men attacked the Dainik Manav Zamin offices in Dhaka. Two employees of the tabloid daily were injured by the gang, who are suspected to have been members of the youth wing of the Jatiya Party. The group was said to have been angered by the newspaper's report that former president and JP chairman General Hussain Muhammad Ershad had purchased the anti-impotence drug Viagra on a recent visit to London. An editor from the paper said that while the police posted guards outside the newspaper building for a few days after the incident, little has been done to investigate the matter and identify the attackers.

On 9 June, also in Dhaka, five newspaper correspondents were assaulted while covering a story about the kidnapping of seven people in connection with a water dispute between two parties in Ghargaon and Raktagram villages. According to the Bangladesh Centre for the Development of Journalism and Communication (BCDJC), the journalists attacked were Manav Zamin correspondent Masud Ahmed, Banglabazar correspondent Abdul Aziz, Dainik Dinkal correspondent Faruq Ahmed Bakht, Bhorer Kagoj correspondent Nijamul Huq, and Manuebarta correspondent Mostfa Ahmed Chowdhury.

And in Dhaka, on 18 June, several journalists were assaulted and their press vehicles attacked as they attempted to cover the nationwide strike called by the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Although the BNP had announced that vehicles marked "press" would be free to move during the strike, there were several violent incidents directed against the media. According to the BCDJC, several journalists, including the daily newspaper Sangbad's reporter Abdullah Farooq, were harassed and robbed, the daily newspaper Muktakantha's vehicle was set on fire, and the taxi used by the tabloid daily Manav Zamin was bombed. Other press vehicles damaged in incidents around the city were those of the newspapers Bhorer Kagoj, Daily Star, Ajker Kagoj, and Banglabazar.

On 12 June, Dainik Ittefaq, Bangladesh's largest circulation daily paper, ran a rare front-page commentary, expressing enormous frustration with the fact that those who attack journalists and newspapers are seldom brought to justice. The editorial's prominent placement is a reflection of the journalistic community's growing dismay with a system that does not protect them. Shortly thereafter, on 17 June, Home Secretary Shafiur asked police to more aggressively investigate attacks against journalists so that criminals can be prosecuted.

As a non-partisan organization of journalists committed to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ urges your government to enforce that pledge. We recognize the progress your government has made in protecting civil institutions, including the press, but these recent developments represent a dangerous trend in Bangladesh. We believe that attacks on press freedom, if left unchecked, will erode the hard-won foundation of democracy in Bangladesh, and we ask you to use the full force of your office to investigate attacks on the press and curb abuses of power directed at journalists in Bangladesh.

Thank you for your attention. We await your response.

 

Yours sincerely,

William A. Orme, Jr.

Executive Director