Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Bangladesh
|Publisher||Committee to Protect Journalists|
|Publication Date||February 2004|
|Cite as||Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Bangladesh, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c56692c.html [accessed 17 December 2014]|
In 2003, Bangladesh was one of the most violent countries in the world for journalists, with almost daily cases of physical assaults and intimidation – particularly in rural areas. Local journalists say they are increasingly under threat for reporting on political violence, graft, and organized crime, but that the main cause of brutality against the press in Bangladesh is pervasive corruption.
For the third consecutive year, Transparency International, a nonprofit group dedicated to combating corruption, named Bangladesh the most corrupt country in the world. In response to criticism that her government has not done enough to stop corruption and criminal gangs, which are often linked to political parties, Prime Minister Khaleda Zia launched a massive crackdown on crime in October 2002, dubbed "Operation Clean Heart." Military units were deployed nationwide, but after police and human rights groups reported that more than 40 suspects had been killed in custody, the soldiers were withdrawn in January 2003. In February, however, a paramilitary task force was redeployed. Police were granted authority to shoot criminals on sight, and President Iajuddin Ahmed signed a controversial bill granting troops immunity from prosecution for killings and other alleged human rights violations committed during the crackdown.
One victim was journalist Hiramon Mondol, a correspondent for the daily Dainik Prabarttan, who was brutally assaulted by members of the government's joint task force in the southwestern town of Khulna on August 8. Soldiers beat him with rifles and hockey sticks after he wrote an article alleging that joint task force members had stolen fish from locals. Mondol was treated for his wounds then taken into custody by the joint task force, which charged him with extortion. Although he was eventually tried, acquitted, and freed six weeks after his arrest, Mondol says he still feels threatened.
CPJ documented several other cases in 2003 where journalists who reported on crimes committed by government officials were falsely charged with crimes in reprisal. Editor and publisher Mahmudul Haq was imprisoned for several weeks in May on extortion charges in Sitakunda, an industrial town in the southeastern Chittagong District, after exposing local political corruption. Akkas Sikder, a reporter for the local newspaper Ajker Barta, was charged with murder in July and detained for a month after he wrote about police corruption in the southern Jhalakati District. The charges were eventually dropped.
Partisans and gangs associated with Prime Minister Zia's ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – including the party's student wing, Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) – were responsible for many other brutal assaults against journalists. (Before the Awami League Party [ALP] lost power to the BNP in the 2001 elections, ALP members were also known for their brutal assaults on the media.) On July 31, a group of 20 JCD members viciously attacked Hasan Jahid Tusher, a reporter for The Daily Star, in his dorm room at Dhaka University in retaliation for articles he wrote about their violent activities. The gang beat Tusher with iron rods, severely injuring his back and shoulders, and then dragged him downstairs from his third-floor room.
In the Shariatpur District of southern Bangladesh, JCD members kidnapped the local correspondent for the national newspaper Janakantha, Abul Bashar, from his office on June 19. They took the journalist to district BNP headquarters, where armed party members shot him and beat him, injuring his spine, skull, and eyes. Prior to the kidnapping, Janakantha, which is known for its critical coverage of the BNP, ran an article detailing attacks on Shariatpur residents carried out by the JCD. By year's end, no arrests had been made in the attacks on Tusher and Bashar.
In addition to the government officials, police, and party leaders who threatened and attacked journalists, criminal gangs also endangered the Bangladeshi press in 2003. In July, Shafiq Shaheen, a reporter for the newspaper Manabzamin, was severely beaten with hockey sticks by suspected gang members for writing about their illegal activities in the capital, Dhaka.
While no journalists were killed for their work in 2003 in Bangladesh, six have been murdered in the last seven years. No one has been convicted for any of the killings. The investigation into the 2000 murder of Shamsur Rahman, a Janakantha correspondent known for his articles exposing local criminal gangs, led to the arrest and charging of 17 men beginning in May 2003, including five journalists. One of the journalists, Farazi Azmal Hossain, a reporter with the Dhaka-based daily Ittefaq, was a close friend of Rahman's. Hossain was formally charged in September but remained free on bail at year's end. According to The Associated Press, the government suspects that "professional jealousy" may have led Hossain to murder Rahman. But Hossain's lawyer claims that the charges are a "conspiracy" and a form of harassment because Hossain has protested Rahman's killing. Rahman's widow, meanwhile, has asked that the charges against Hossain be dropped.
Sensitivity to foreign media coverage remained high in 2003 after investigative articles in the U.S. newsweeklies Time and Far Eastern Economic Review in 2002 raised the possibility of an al-Qaeda presence in Bangladesh. In November 2002, two U.K.-based filmmakers with Britain's Channel 4 were accused of sedition and held for 16 days before being deported. Two Bangladeshi journalists working with them were also detained and charged with "anti-state activities." In February 2003, Prime Minister Zia accused the foreign media of slander at a conference for the Commonwealth Journalists Association. Visas for foreign reporters became difficult to obtain, and in July officials banned an issue of Newsweek containing an article examining different interpretations of the Quran.
While the number of independent publications in the country continues to grow, television is still severely restricted. The state-run Bangladesh Television and its radio counterpart, Bangladesh Betar, dominate the market. The country's only private channel that is not broadcast via cable or satellite, Ekushey Television (ETV), was closed in August 2002 after the Supreme Court ruled that the station's license had been obtained improperly. Local sources believe that the ruling was a pretext because the BNP has accused the channel of being biased in favor of the opposition Awami League Party. According to local journalists, the station plans to relaunch in early 2004.
Bangladesh has three other private channels, NTV, Channel I, and ATN, but they can only be viewed by satellite or cable. The government allows private cable companies to broadcast foreign programming such as CNN and the BBC. But channels risk losing their licenses if they are overly critical of the government, leading to self-censorship by local journalists.
In a country where impunity is the norm for those who attack journalists, a significant development occurred in 2003 in the case of 2002 CPJ International Press Freedom Award recipient Tipu Sultan. Two-and-a-half years after he was savagely attacked in the southwestern district of Feni, arrest warrants were finally issued in April for former member of Parliament Joynal Hazari and 12 of his aides on charges of violent assault and the attempted murder of Sultan. In January 2001, Sultan was abducted and savagely beaten with iron rods and hockey sticks by a gang of Hazari's thugs. During the assault, they crushed the bones in Sultan's hands, arms, and legs. Hazari, a local political leader who belonged to the then ruling Awami League Party, reportedly ordered the beating in retaliation for articles by Sultan accusing him of corruption.
Sultan's case shocked journalists in Bangladesh and worldwide, and Hazari was forced to flee the country, reportedly to India. On April 16, after a 28-month investigation, Hazari and 12 of his associates were charged in absentia. Hazari was formally indicted in October. The trial began in November and was ongoing at press time. Sultan testified against Hazari on December 17 and was scheduled to be cross-examined by defense lawyers in early 2004.
Despite progress toward justice in the case, Hazari made threatening phone calls in August to Sultan's home saying he would kill the journalist and his family unless the journalist withdrew the case, said Sultan. That same month, in an unrelated case, Hazari was convicted in absentia on two counts of illegal arms possession and sentenced to life in prison. Although Hazari's conviction in Sultan's case would send a message that those who try to silence journalists will be held accountable, he must be apprehended first.
2003 Documented Cases – Bangladesh
MARCH 1, 2003
Rafiqul Hasan Tuhin, Janakantha
Tuhin, a reporter for the national, Bengali-language daily Janakantha, was assaulted in the northeastern town of Habiganj by a gang of about 20 men armed with knives and hockey sticks. The journalist was hospitalized with injuries to his head, hands, and knees, according to local press accounts. Tuhin says his assailants were members of Islami Chhatra Shibir, the youth organization of the Jamaat-i-Islami, an Islamist party that belongs to the country's ruling coalition.
The attack followed reports Tuhin had published in Janakantha about a rape allegedly committed by a member of Islami Chhatra Shibir. The journalist received death threats after the articles ran. Though he reported the threats to police, he received no protection.
MARCH 3, 2003
Dilip Kumar, Prothom Alo
Kumar, local correspondent for the daily Prothom Alo in the town of Nikli, in the northern Kishoreganj District, was arrested at his home on charges of violence and vandalism the day after he wrote about post-election violence for the paper. According to local journalists, Kumar's reporting on violence and fraud in local elections held on March 2 angered members of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In retaliation, BNP officials filed a complaint against Kumar accusing him of vandalism, and he was arrested the next day. The court magistrate rejected Kumar's bail petition and sent him to prison in Kishoreganj on March 3.
A delegation of local journalists met with the Kishoreganj police chief and demanded Kumar's release. According to the United News of Bangladesh, the head of the delegation told police that Kumar had been falsely charged, and that a local member of parliament from the BNP had targeted him. Kumar, who is also general secretary of the Nikli Press Club, was freed on bail on March 8 after spending five days in prison.
MARCH 8, 2003
Sharif Shahabuddin, The News Today
Shahabuddin, senior correspondent at The News Today, was attacked by a group of unidentified assailants while driving in his car in the capital Dhaka, according to local news reports.
Shahabuddin was driving home late at night when a white jeep blocked the road in front of him. When he tried to drive away from the scene, assailants from the white jeep attacked his car with heavy objects, damaging his vehicle. The journalist managed to escape and filed a formal complaint at Tejgaon Police Station, but no arrests have been made, according to the daily Observer.
In the days before the attack, Shahabuddin had received several anonymous threats over the phone. He has written about sensitive topics, including the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh and official corruption. A December 2002 article in The News Today about exporting natural gas to India also angered local fundamentalists, according to Shahabuddin.
Local journalists' groups protested the attack on Shahabuddin. In a statement issued on March 14, 2003, Dhaka Union of Journalists President Abdul Jalil Bhuyian and General-Secretary Omar Faruque said that attacks on journalists had become regular occurrences, making it impossible for journalists to do their jobs safely, according to The News Today.
MARCH 14, 2003
Shawkat Milton, Janakantha
Milton, a reporter for the Bengali-language daily Janakantha, went into hiding after learning that police were about to arrest him. The journalist had been covering campaign abuses committed by officials during the run-up to local elections in Barisal, a city in southern Bangladesh, scheduled for that day.
Milton, a Barisal-based correspondent and outspoken press freedom activist, has been targeted several times for his political reporting. In 2002, activists associated with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) filed a series of criminal complaints accusing him of offenses ranging from criminal defamation to possession of explosives. Local journalists say that these complaints were part of a harassment campaign by officials angered by his reporting.
Milton has also been physically assaulted. According to Janakantha, in January 2002, Kabir Uddin Hannu, a municipal commissioner in Barisal and the district secretary of the Jatiya Party, assaulted Milton on a city street. Though police arrested Hannu after local journalists pressured them, he was released on bail and has not been prosecuted for the attack.
In September 2002, BNP activists assaulted and seriously injured Milton and other journalists during a public meeting held in Barisal to protest the government's closure of the private broadcaster Ekushey Television. When the journalists attempted to file a case against their assailants, they discovered that police had already filed two false cases against them in response to complaints lodged by BNP activists. Fearing arrest or further physical reprisals, Milton went into hiding for several months. He resumed reporting in Barisal in late November 2002.
APRIL 30, 2003
Atahar Siddik Khasru, Ittefaq
Khasru, a correspondent for the national daily Ittefaq and president of the local press club in Sitakunda, an industrial town in southeastern Bangladesh, disappeared during the evening. Family members and colleagues said he had received threats for protesting the harassment of Mahmudul Haq, a local editor whose reporting had angered police and politicians in Sitakunda.
Police had attempted to arrest Haq on April 29 after Nurul Islam, general-secretary of the Sitakunda branch of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), filed a criminal complaint accusing the journalist of extortion. Haq, who was not at home at the time of the raid, had written critically about local corruption in Sitakunda.
On April 30, Khasru visited Haq's home. According to family members and colleagues who spoke to Khasru that afternoon, he received a call on his mobile phone from Islam during this visit. Khasru said the BNP leader threatened to "teach him a lesson" if he continued to support Haq. Several sources told CPJ that Islam warned Khasru, who had been kidnapped and tortured for his reporting in June 2001 during the rule of the Awami League party, which is now in the opposition, that, "You escaped last time during the Awami League period. This time we won't make that mistake." That same evening, Khasru disappeared. Journalists suspect that he was kidnapped, but there were no witnesses to the reporter's abduction. Khasru was last seen in the busy Dewanhut area of Chittagong, a major city near Sitakunda, where a friend dropped him off at around 9:30 p.m.
On May 6, Khasru's brother filed a case with Sitakunda police accusing Islam and his followers of kidnapping the journalist. On May 7, Osman Ghani Mansur, the Chittagong bureau chief for Ittefaq and a relative of Khasru's, received an anonymous threatening call on his mobile phone saying that if the family does not drop the case against Islam, they will find Khasru's dead body. Mansur immediately alerted local police, reporting that the call came shortly after 3 p.m. from a Dhaka-based phone.
Local journalists in Sitakunda have also received anonymous calls threatening them not to report on the case. In addition, on May 6, a group of men assaulted about 15 journalists in Sitakunda after they had delivered a petition to the town's chief administrative officer protesting Khasru's disappearance.
On May 21, Khasru was found by a village roadside, his hands and feet bound by chains, and his body covered with small cuts. Before being admitted to the hospital, he made statements to police and to the Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in the nearby city of Chittagong, identifying eight people as accomplices to his kidnapping, including Islam.
MAY 6, 2003
Mahmudul Haq, Upanagar
Police in the capital, Dhaka, arrested Haq, a veteran journalist and editor with the magazine Upanagar, based in the southeastern town of Sitakunda. A local politician in Sitakunda had registered a criminal complaint against Haq, accusing the journalist of extortion. Haq had published several articles in Upanagar about corruption committed by politicians and police in Sitakunda, in Chittagong District.
The case against Haq was filed by Nurul Islam, general secretary of the Sitakunda branch of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). On April 29, BNP activists accompanied Sitakunda police in a raid on Haq's home. Haq was not there at the time and went to Dhaka to appeal for pre-arrest bail.
Dhaka police arrested Haq on May 6 and took him to Chittagong the next morning. On May 7, a magistrate in Chittagong authorized police to detain Haq for three days pending an investigation into the extortion charges filed against him. Haq was later released from prison.
Earlier, another local journalist, Atahar Siddik Khasru, was kidnapped after protesting Haq's harassment. Khasru, who is president of the Sitakunda Press Club and a correspondent for the national daily Ittefaq, disappeared on the night of April 30 and was found on May 21 by a village roadside, his hands and feet bound by chains, and his body covered with small cuts. Before being admitted to the hospital, Khasru made statements to police and to the Metropolitan Magistrate's Court in the nearby city of Chittagong, identifying eight people as accomplices to his kidnapping, including Islam.
JUNE 19, 2003
Abul Bashar, Janakantha
Members of the Jatiyatabadi Chattra Dal (JCD), a student group associated with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), kidnapped and violently attacked Bashar, the local correspondent for the Bengali-language national daily newspaper Janakantha in the southern district of Shariatpur. According to local sources and Bashar, the JCD members forcibly took him from his office in Shariatpur to the district BNP headquarters, where armed party members shot at him with guns and brutally beat him, injuring his backbone, skull, and eyes.
Prior to this incident, Janakantha, which is known for its critical coverage of the BNP, ran an article detailing attacks on Shariatpur residents by the JCD. CPJ has documented several other cases of threats and attacks by various groups on journalists working at Janakantha, including the murder of senior correspondent Shamsur Rahman three years ago.
Bashar checked into a local hospital following the assault, but the next day, armed members of the BNP forced his expulsion from the hospital, said Bashar. On June 23, he filed a case with the local police, but no one has been arrested, and he left the area for fear of further reprisal.
JULY 9, 2003
Arif Mostafa, Prothom Alo
Muniruzzaman Nasim, Ittefaq
Shafiul Huq Mithu, Janakantha
Fashiul Islam, Manabzamin
Abul Kalam Azad, Dainik Janata
Zahirul Huq, Dainik Dinkal
Golam Kibria, Dainik Purbanchal
Seven journalists in Pirojpur, a district in southern Bangladesh, received nearly identical anonymous death threats by mail. The handwritten letters, accompanied by a piece of white cloth that some journalists took to represent death shrouds, were sent to Mostafa, of the daily Prothom Alo; Nasim, of the daily Ittefaq; Mithu, of the daily Janakantha; Islam, of the daily Manabzamin; Azad, of the newspaper Dainik Janata; Huq, of the newspaper Dainik Dinkal, and Kibria, of the newspaper Dainik Purbanchal.
"You will have to pay very dearly for causing obstruction to our activities and forcing us to go into hiding," the letters said, according to the English-language newspaper The Daily Star. "You have no right to live for causing damage to the class struggle." Though the message conveyed in the letters seemed to suggest the involvement of leftist militants, the reporters believe that the threat may have come from a local businessman angered by recent articles alleging that he used strong-arm tactics to secure a road-building contract from the government. Police promised to investigate the case, and plainclothes officers provided security to the journalists.
JULY 19, 2003
Mokter Hossain, Prothom Alo
Unidentified gunmen fired on Hossain, a longtime correspondent for the national, Bengali-language daily Prothom Alo, at his home in the in the northern district of Natore. Hossain was not injured, and his assailants fled the scene. While the motive of the attack remains uncertain, Hossain and his colleagues believe that it came in retaliation for his journalism. Before opening fire, the assailants asked Hossain whether he worked for Prothom Alo. During the last year, the daily has run a number of Hossain's articles from Natore, including reports that certain local politicians shelter and even serve as patrons to gang members and other criminals, according to CPJ sources.
Hossain continues to fear for his safety, and sources told CPJ that family members have advised him not to leave his house. Police have opened an inquiry into the shooting, but Prothom Alo is considering sending one of its own correspondents to the area to conduct an independent investigation.
JULY 20, 2003
Shafiq Shaheen, Manabzamin
Members of a criminal gang in the capital, Dhaka, brutally assaulted Shaheen, a reporter for the national, Bengali-language daily Manabzamin. The attack appeared to come in reprisal for an article Shaheen had written one week earlier about the gang's illegal activities in Dhaka's Dhanmondi neighborhood. Shaheen lives in Dhanmondi and is the newspaper's regular stringer in the area.
On July 13, Manabzamin published an article by Shaheen detailing an extortion scheme carried out by the gang. On July 20, gang members – who live in Dhanmondi and were easily recognized by the reporter – stopped Shaheen on the street, slapped and kicked him, and then took him to a house occupied by a man named Nuruzzaman Ripon, who is believed to be the group's leader, according to CPJ sources. There, they beat Shaheen with hockey sticks, hitting his head and body and severely injuring his back and legs.
Shaheen's relatives, who live nearby, summoned the police, who arrived on the scene and initially arrested Shaheen along with several of the gangsters. Once police confirmed that Shaheen was a journalist, they released him, but they also released his assailants. The reporter's relatives took him to a hospital for treatment.
The journalist's colleagues told CPJ that they were seriously concerned about Shaheen's safety. Manabzamin filed a criminal complaint identifying four of Shaheen's assailants, including Ripon. Police arrested Ripon on July 20 but released him the next day, according to Manabzamin. Dhanmondi police refused to say why or on whose order he was released, according to CPJ sources. The whereabouts of the four identified suspects are currently unknown.
JULY 28, 2003
Bangladeshi government officials banned the July 28 issue of Newsweek magazine's international edition because of an article deemed offensive to Islam. On July 23, Pakistan's information minister ordered a similar nationwide ban on the same issue, according to the Karachi-based Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF). The article, titled "Challenging the Quran," discusses the work of a German scholar whose interpretation of Islam's holy book departs radically from the mainstream, concluding that the original language of the Quran was not Arabic but something closer to Aramaic and that, as a result, much of the book has been "mistranscribed" and thus misinterpreted. For example, the scholar, who uses the pseudonym Christoph Luxenberg, called into question the traditional interpretation of Sura 33, a verse taken to mean that Muhammad is the final and ultimate prophet of God.
The Bangladeshi government banned the edition because the article "might hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims," according to The Associated Press. The majority of Bangladesh's 133 million inhabitants are Muslim.
Jahangir Alam Akas, Sangbad
Unidentified assailants beat and kidnapped Akas, a reporter for the Bengali-language daily Sangbad, in Rajshahi, a city in northwestern Bangladesh. According to Akas and several local journalists, a group of armed youths approached the journalist at an intersection at around 10:30 p.m., blindfolded him at gunpoint, and took him to an unknown location. There, they kicked and beat him while screaming at him not to publish stories "about us."
Although the reporter repeatedly asked his assailants to identify themselves, they refused. The assault lasted for 30 minutes before Akas was released. Although Akas was not severely injured, he fears for his safety. Sangbad regularly publishes Akas' articles about the criminal activities of smugglers in Rajshahi and about the protection local politicians often provide them.
JULY 31, 2003
Hasan Jahid Tusher, The Daily Star
Members of the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), a student group associated with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), attacked Tusher, a correspondent for the English-language newspaper The Daily Star, in the middle of the night outside his dorm room at Dhaka University. Tusher's colleagues, one of whom spoke to Tusher in the hospital, suspect two JCD leaders – Tanjilur Rahman Tanjil and Shoeb Khondoker – of orchestrating the attack.
According to The Daily Star and The Associated Press (AP), about 20 JCD members beat the correspondent with iron rods, severely injuring his back and shoulders. "You have no right to stay here since you have written reports against us," shouted one of his assailants, The Daily Star and the AP reported. The attackers then dragged Tusher down the stairs from his third-floor room and left him outside the dormitory. Students later carried him to the hospital.
Tusher, who covers university news for The Daily Star, has written several articles detailing JCD attacks on students who belong to opposing political groups. JCD General Secretary Azizul Bari Helal visited Tusher in the hospital and promised to take action against those responsible. Reporters at The Daily Star told CPJ that soon after Helal's visit, four of Tusher's assailants were expelled from the party. However, the two JCD leaders whom Tusher's colleagues suspect of organizing the attack are still at large.
Akkas Sikder, Ajker Barta, Bhorer Kagoj
Police in Jhalakati, a district in southern Bangladesh, arrested Sikder, a correspondent for the local Bengali-language daily Ajker Barta and the national Bengali-language daily Bhorer Kagoj, and held him for eight days before releasing him on bail.
Sikder's family told local journalists that he had received a call at home asking him to report to the Detective Branch of Police in Jhalakati. There, he was arrested upon arrival and turned over to the local police, who jailed him the following day.
Sikder was held on accusations of murder relating to a case opened in May and was twice denied bail. However, local journalists told CPJ they believe that their colleague was imprisoned because of his reporting.
On July 31, the same day Sikder was arrested, Ajker Barta ran an article written by the journalist detailing 16 allegations of corruption against Jhalakati Superintendent of Police Sheikh Hemayet Hossain and a former officer in charge of the Jhalakati police station, Moslehuddin (who, like many Bangladeshis, goes by only one name).
Sikder was released on bail after an August 7 hearing and the charges against him have reportedly been dropped.
AUGUST 8, 2003
Hiramon Mondol, Dainik Prabarttan
Mondol, a correspondent for the daily Dainik Prabarttan, in thesouthwestern town of Khulna, was attacked and brutally assaulted by police before being detained and jailed on extortion charges. He was held for six weeks before being exonerated and freed on September 20.
Fearing reprisal for an August 3 article he wrote accusing police and security forces of stealing highly prized and valuable fish from local fishermen, Mondol went into hiding for a few days, said local journalists. On August 8, after police pressured his family for his whereabouts, the journalist went to a police and security forces joint task force camp. While there, the police beat Mondol with rifles and hockey sticks, said the sources, before taking him into custody. Mondol received medical treatment for his wounds but was later transferred to the district jail in Khulna and charged with extortion under the Speedy Trial Act, which denies defendants bail.
Local journalists and Mondol's family say the attack was directly related to Mondol's article about the police, and that the charges against him were false.
Mondol's trial began on September 1. Although several witnesses testified against him, local press reports allege that police told the witnesses to give false testimony against Mondol. Charges against the journalist were dropped after police failed to make a convincing case against him. Mondol was released from jail on September 20 by the magistrate of the Special Tribunal Act in Khulna.
NOVEMBER 1, 2003
Updated: November 12, 2003
Selim Jahangir, Janakantha
Jahangir, a photojournalist for the national Bengali-language daily Janakantha, in Rajshahi, a city in northwestern Bangladesh, was arrested on the afternoon of November 1.
Magistrate Abdul Majid arrested Jahangir for taking photos at a busy police checkpoint in the Shehab Bazaar in Rajshahi, according to Janakantha. Local journalists report that Jahangir decided to go to the checkpoint after hearing complaints of harassment from passing motorists. When he arrived at the checkpoint and started taking pictures, Majid ordered Jahangir to stop photographing and leave the area. Jahangir refused to leave, and Majid became enraged, ordering police at the checkpoint to arrest the photographer, Janakantha reported. Police then dragged Jahangir into a van and took him into custody at 6 p.m., charging him with obstructing an official from his duty and threatening an official's life, said local journalists.
Jahangir was denied bail. The journalist's arrest has outraged local press groups in Rajshahi, including the Metropolitan Press Club and the Rajshahi Photojournalist Association. On November 2, as many as 1,000 people demonstrated in Rajshahi calling for his release, according to The Associated Press.
At his hearing on November 10, he was released from the Rajshahi Central Jail. According to local journalists, the charges of obstruction and threatening an official's life remain. Local journalists remain outraged by Jahangir's arrest and are demanding that action be taken against Majid.
NOVEMBER 10, 2003
Posted: November 12, 2003
Bakhtiar Islam Munnah, Ittefaq and United News of Bangladesh
Osman Harun Mahmud Dulal, Janakantha
Shahjalal Ratan, Jugantor
Muhammed Jalal Uddin Manabzamin
Asaduzzaman Dara, Bhorer Kagoj
According to local news reports, Munna, the local Feni correspondent for the daily Ittefaq and for the wire service United News of Bangladesh (UNB), Dulal, a correspondent for the daily Janakantha; Ratan, a reporter for the daily Jugantor; Uddin, a reporter for the daily Manabzamin; and Dara, a correspondent for the daily Bhorer Kagoj were standing on the street talking on the evening of November 10 when the assailants threw a homemade bomb at them and fled the scene. None of the journalists were injured, but the explosion created a panic among local residents.
Police suspect that the assailants were specifically targeting Munna because he is scheduled to testify in an assault case involving journalist Tipu Sultan, said local news reports. Police are investigating the incident, but no arrests have been made.
On November 5, the trial of the men accused of assaulting Tipu Sultan opened in Feni almost three years after Sultan, then a reporter for the UNB, was abducted and brutally beaten with iron rods and wooden bats. His assailants crushed the bones in his hands, arms, and legs. Local politician Joynal Hazari has been charged with ordering the January 25, 2001, attack, which occurred after Sultan published an article that accused Hazari of abuse of power. Hazari fled the country soon after the attack and is in hiding in India, according to local news reports. He was formally indicted on assault charges with 12 of his associates on October 14, 2003.
On October 24, a close associate of Hazari's, Sukhdev Nath Tapan, was arrested for plotting to kill witnesses in Sultan's trail, according to a UNB report. Hazari also called Sultan and threatened him and Munna in June, according to Sultan, who also said that Hazari phoned him in August when the journalist was visiting his home in Feni and threatened him again.
Hazari and six of his associates are being tried in absentia for Sultan's abduction and assault. The other six associates pled not guilty in October, and will appear in court. The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for December 3.
After undergoing numerous surgeries and years of physical therapy, Sultan is working again as a journalist. In 2002, CPJ honored his courage with an International Press Freedom Award.
NOVEMBER 29, 2003
Posted: December 3, 2003
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Blitz
Choudhury, editor of the tabloid weekly Blitz, was arrested by security personnel at Zia International Airport in the capital, Dhaka.
According to local news reports, Choudhury was on his way to Israel to participate in a conference with the Hebrew Writers Association when he was arrested at the airport on charges of espionage. Intelligence agents interrogated Choudhury at the airport and confiscated his luggage, according to The Daily Star. Choudhury's home was also raided, according to The Independent newspaper.
The journalist is accused of having links to an Israeli intelligence agency and has been under surveillance for the last several months, according to The Daily Star. Choudhury denies the charges, according to The Independent, but will be held without bail for seven days.
Bangladesh has no formal relations with Israel, and travel to Israel is illegal for Bangladeshi citizens. CPJ is investigating the motives behind Choudhury's detention. He was traveling to address a writers' symposium in Tel Aviv titled "Bridges Through Culture" and was scheduled to speak about "the role of media in establishing peace," according to the organizer of the conference. Choudhury would have been the first journalist from Bangladesh to address such a group in Israel.
Choudhury recently opened a branch of the Israel-based International Forum for Literature and Culture of Peace, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting world peace, and is known for his work to improve relations and understanding between Muslim countries and Israel. He has written articles against anti-Israeli attitudes in Muslim countries and recently wrote about the rise of al-Qaeda in Bangladesh.
Police sources told The Daily Star that Choudhury would also be charged with sedition. Choudhury previously worked as managing director of Inqilab Television, a privately owned channel.
DECEMBER 28, 2003
Posted: January 29, 2004
Bakhtiar Islam Munnah, Ittefaq
Unidentified assailants threw an explosive device at Munnah, the local correspondent for the daily Ittefaq, while he was walking home along the Trunk Road in downtown Feni, in southern Bangladesh. The bomb narrowly missed Munnah, and he sought refuge at a nearby restaurant until police arrived, according to local journalists.
Munnah had survived a previous bomb attack on November 10, 2003, according to local journalist Tipu Sultan. Munnah filed a complaint with the local police, but no arrests have been made in either case.
Munnah is an eyewitness in the trial of Tipu Sultan, former Feni correspondent for the United News of Bangladesh who was beaten by thugs in January 2001 because of his reporting about a corrupt local politician named Joynal Hazari. During the attack, Sultan suffered broken bones in his hand, arms, and legs and was left for dead on the side of the road.
Hazari and 13 of his associates were charged with the attempted murder in April 2003. After international outcry in the wake of Sultan's savage attack, Hazari went into hiding and is reported to be in India. He was charged in absentia.
The trial began in October 2003 and is ongoing. According to Sultan, he and Munnah have received repeated phone calls from Hazari, threatening to harm them. Sultan and Munnah have filed separate complaints with police about the threats.
DECEMBER 28, 2003
Posted: March 15, 2004
Shafiul Huq Mithu, Janakantha
Mithu, the local correspondent for the Bengali-language daily Janakantha in the southwestern town of Pirojpur, was brutally attacked at about 9:30 p.m. by thugs and activists from the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) apparently in reprisal for a recent article about criminal activities connected to local BNP members.
On his way home from the Pirojpur Press Club that night, Mithu says that he was tailed by three BNP activists: Akram Ali Molla, Chowra Kamal, and Reazzudin Rana. The four activists and another member, Moulana Shafiq, had been following and threatening Mithu since December 17, 2003, when his article about a group of criminals supported by the local BNP, who terrorized a local Hindu community in an attempt to oust them from their valuable land, was published.
At some point, the three activists seemed to disappear, and a group of men descended upon Mithu and tried to kill him, beating him in the head repeatedly with pipes, knocking him unconscious, and breaking his right arm in several places. When local passersby heard his cries and came upon the scene, Mithu was saved. His assailants tried to flee, but one of them, a local thug known simply as Russell, was captured. Mithu has identified two other assailants in the group as Chowra Kamal and Akram Ali Molla-two of the three men who were following him.
The authorities arrested Russell and charged him with attempted murder in March. The two activists have not been arrested, even though sources have seen them in the Pirojpur area.
After the attack, locals brought Mithu to the hospital, where he received medical treatment, but he still suffers from severe headaches and pain in his right arm, which has not yet been properly set. He is scheduled to travel to India for treatment for his arm in the coming months.
Mithu was one of seven journalists in the Pirojpur District who received death threats last summer. He has written critically about local MP's from the BNP and the Jammat-i-Islami fundamentalist political party.