Persecution and intimidation of journalists continues despite the ruling Awami League’s electoral pledge of putting an end to such activities to ensure the freedom of the mass media and flow of information.
A large number of newsmen have reportedly come under attacks by lawmen and influential quarters, which has hampered press freedom and harmed the people’s right to know even during the elected government of Sheikh Hasina that assumed office on January 6, 2009 after a two-year rule of the military-controlled interim government of Fakhruddin Ahmed.
There have been reports on torture of reporters in custody and cases filed by influential quarters against reporters in many places only to harass them, according to media reports.
It has been reported that journalists of both the print and the electronic media are facing the wrath of the ruling party activists apparently for reporting on incidents of tender manipulation, extortion, land grab and other irregularities. Many journalists in different areas have gone into hiding for fear of life.
Two hundred and thirty journalists were attacked or harassed — three of them were killed, 71 wounded, 36 assaulted and 68 threatened — while they discharging their duties after the Awami League-led government had assumed office, said a recent report by human rights watchdog Odhikar.
‘Persecution and intimidation of journalists will be stopped. All false cases filed against them will be withdrawn,’ said the Awami League’s manifesto for the 2008 elections which led the party to power with an overwhelming majority.
The information minister, Abul Kalam Azad, during the question-answer session in the parliament early October, admitted that the government had failed to bring the killers of journalists to justice. But the government is trying to bring them to book, he said.
‘We have also asked the local administration to take appropriate measures to stop the recurrence of unfortunate incidents such as killing of journalists and attack on them anywhere in the country,’ the minister said.
In October, the Rapid Action Battalion tortured New Age staff correspondent FM Masum in public and in custody. But the police till date have not registered any case in this connection.
The Jatrabari police on October 24 received Masum’s complaint but declined to record it as a case. Masum, who was picked up by a RAB 10 team from his house on October 22, was critically injured.
He is still suffering because of the injuries done by the battalion personnel. The battalion headquarters just regretted in writing and said the incident had happened because of ‘misunderstanding.’
The battalion team, led by flight lieutenant Anisur Rahman, beat Masum up and rubbed salt to the injuries and took him to the battalion’s unit office.
The home affairs minister, Sahara Khatun, and the state minister, Shamsul Haque Tuku, assured journalists and relatives of Masum on different occasions that the battalion men responsible for the incident would be punished and the police would also record the case.
The officer responsible was withdrawn later to Armed Forces Division and this has remained the only action taken so far in this connection, according to official sources.
In the latest incident, special correspondent of the daily Amar Desh, M Abdullah, was on December 19 attacked by some assailants at Banani in Dhaka two days after a report against the prime minister’s son and her energy adviser had been published in the newspaper.
The newspaper’s acting editor Mahmudur Rahman now faces at least 21 defamation cases for publishing the report.
Awami League leaders gave angry reactions to the news report at a discussion the day after the report had been published.
The state minister for LGRD, Jahangir Kabir Nanak, referring to the Amar Desh editor Mahmudur Rahman, said, ‘Do not stretch us to the limit. If people get angry, you will not be able to go out in public.’
But the Awami League’s election manifesto under the subhead of freedom of the mass media and flow of information said freedom of all types of mass media and flow of information will be ensured.
It also said investigation and trial of killing of all journalists would be conducted expeditiously and the criminals would be given exemplary punishment but that has remained highly unlikely.
The media have reported on numerous incidents of such physical attack on newsmen, filing of cases against them and threat and harassment in different other forms by ruling party activists. Some incidents of attack on the houses and business establishments of district correspondents of different newspapers have also taken place during the period.
‘The government is aware of its responsibility in ensuring the security of journalists when they perform their professional duties,’ Sahara earlier said. ‘No one will go unpunished if they are found involved in harassing journalists and intimidating them. The government will go tough on the offenders and stop repression on journalists with an iron hand.’
Awami League lawmaker ABM Abul Kashem Master’s sons SM Al Mamun and SM Al Noman and their cousin Mahmudul Hasan Manna earlier assaulted Prothom Alo reporter Pranab Bol, photojournalist Rashed Mahmud, Sitakunda correspondent of Samakal M Sekandar and Sitakunda Press Club president Forkan Abu when they were gathering news of land grab of four shipyards at Kumira by Awami League men.
Chhatra League activists on January 15 forced Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University correspondents of Ittefaq, Amader Samay, Naya Diganta, Amar Desh, Dinkal and Inqilab to leave the halls for reporting on incidents of violence and other ‘misdeeds’ of the activists of the AL-backed students’ organisation.
Sangbad’s Kushtia correspondent Mamun Reza needed to be admitted to hospital after he had been beaten by Awami League activists on February 4.
Awami League lawmaker Sarah Begum Kabari slapped local daily newspaper Sitalakkhya’s photojournalist Sheikh Shahidul Islam Sentu in Narayanganj on March 15.
Ittefaq staff reporter and Destiny correspondent were attacked on April 2 and correspondents of Inqilab and Bhorer Dak were assaulted by ruling party activists in Khulna for reporting on an incident of grabbing of a shrimp enclosure by local Awami League leaders and activists.
Naya Diganta and Desh Bangla correspondents were on May 14 wounded by Awami League activists on the campus of Patuakhali University of Science and Technology. Chhatra League activists assaulted Amar Desh correspondent in Chittagong University on May 15.
A team of private television channel Banglavision was attacked by Awami League activists in Munshiganj on June 7 when they went there to report on political killings.
Chhatra League activists on June 23 wounded Inqilab correspondent in Khagrachari for reporting on incidents of extortion.
Awami League activists attacked the house of Samakal correspondent at Ishwardi in Pabna on July 27 for publishing a report. Chhatra League and Juba League activists in Chuadanga on September 4 attacked the business enterprise and house of Prothom Alo correspondent Shah Alam in reaction to a report. Shah Alam and his family have reportedly taken shelter in Dhaka as the ruling party men forced them to leave the area.
The ruling party men also filed defamation cases against special correspondents Kamrul Hasan and Shah Alam of the daily Prothom Alo on September 4 and 6. Chhatra League and Juba League activists on September 1 set fire to a shop in Chuadanga, owned by Amar Desh correspondent Ariful Islam Dalim, and also burnt copies of the daily newspaper for publishing a report that angered Awami League lawmaker Solaiman Huq Joarder.
They also attacked Ariful’s house, assaulted his wife and children and looted valuables. On the day, they also attacked business enterprises of Janakantha correspondent Rajib Ahmed Kochi and Prothom Alo correspondent Shah Alam in Chuadanga for publishing similar reports. They also sued Ariful and Shah Alam, along with some BNP activists, after a clash between Awami League and BNP activists.
Banglavision, RTV and Diganta TV correspondents were assaulted by Awami League activists on September 9 when they were going to Galachipa to gather information on the two reporters of Prothom Alo and Amar Desh who were sued on ‘false charges.’
Jai Jai Din correspondent Shahin was attacked by ruling party activists at Sharsha in Jessore on September 13 when he was discharging his professional duty. The Sharsha police refused to register any case against the attackers.
In Jhenaidah, local goons backed allegedly by the ruling party, issued a death threat to and filed a murder case against Amar Desh correspondent Sheikh Ruhul Amin on September 22 for writing a report on crimes committed by Chhatra League activists.
On September 23, Borhan Uddin Rabbani, Jugantor correspondent in Shariatpur, was sued on extortion charges after a report had been published in the daily newspaper on the district Awami League organising secretary Delwar Hossain.