The political, religious and social fractures that divide Bangladesh today have produced a hazardous environment in which human rights and media freedom are frequently violated, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
The IFJ has concerns for journalists’ safety and media freedom in Bangladesh following a series of incidents of violence ranging from; reporters being attacked, harassed by police, and pressured by government and local leaders and; the introduction of phone tapping legislation which will effectively cripple Bangladeshi journalists ability to protect the identity of their sources.
“We are concerned that the threat of violence, legal action, and pressure from those in authority will prevent journalists from doing their job, and encourage a culture of self censorship in the media,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
The IFJ is concerned over the following incidents in Bangladesh:
On March 19, Tuhin Azam, journalist and correspondent for Dainik Prothom Alo went missing from the Islamic University, Kushtia, in the west of Bangladesh. Nobody has been able to confirm his whereabouts.
His disappearance followed an attack by six people in his dormitory at University on March 17, when according to witnesses, six people stormed into Azam’s room at 1am, forced his roommate to leave, and beat the reporter with sticks.
Azam managed to escape and call for help. The attackers fled when other students came to see what the disturbance was. Azam was taken to the university medical centre, where a security guard was arranged to protect him.
Azam is the president of the Islamic University Press Club. The Proctor of the University, Professor Alimur Rahman, assured journalists that the perpetrators would be punished, and a university committee has been formed to investigate the incident.
Also, in further developments in another attack on a journalist at a university, a second investigation committee was formed on March 16, at the Jahangirnagar University into the attempted murder of Nur Siddique – the university correspondent for the Daily Prothom Alo.
Nur Siddique’s room was set on fire at midnight on March 1, he was locked inside but managed to escape unharmed.
Journalist harassed by police
Bikash Chowdhury, journalist for Danik Janakantha is reportedly in hiding from police in fear of harassment.
The correspondent in Patia, near Chittagong, has been reportedly harassed by police because of his story, published on February 6, on illegal burning of smuggled wood in a brickfield.
The owner of the brickfield, Jahedul Haque, a prominent politician, complained to police who then raided the reporter’s home several times, attempting to arrest him.
On February 10, an extortion case was filed against the reporter by a relative of Jahedul Haque who claims the reporter demanded 200,000 Taka (aprox 3,000 USD).
Editor, publisher and reporter arrested
On March 17, the editor, publisher and a reporter from the daily publication Amar Desh were issued arrest warrants by the Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court (CMM), after they failed to show on four fixed dates in a defamation case filed against them.
Two lawyers, SM Nazrul and Royhan Morshed filed a defamation case against the three, over a cover story printed about the two lawyers with the headline “Ainjibi Finejibi” in the newspaper’s Saturday magazine, Bhimrul.
Media criticised by Minister
In the National Parliament on February 14, the Minister for Disaster Management and Relief, Asadul Habib Dulu, accused journalists of demeaning the status of the government.
His criticism was in regards to the media’s negative reporting of the government’s handling of the ‘Monga Crisis’- a seasonal shortage of food that occurs in the northern districts of Bangladesh.
On February 12, the Bangladeshi Parliament passed a new bill allowing intelligence and law enforcement agencies to tap telephone conversations.
The Telecommunications Minister, Aminul Haque, stated the Bangladesh Telecommunications (Amendment) Bill 2006, would assist law enforcement agencies to tackle criminal activities. He assured the opposition that there would be no abuse of the law.
The IFJ is concerned about the impact this new law will have on journalists.
“Under these new laws, journalists will not be able to protect confidential sources as conversations may be intercepted,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
Journalist denied information
Danik Prothom Alo February 14, reported a journalist has been refused information on fertilizer from the Department of Agriculture.
A spokesperson from the department said they do not have permission to give reporters information about fertilizer.
The journalist was advised to contact the Director General of the department directly.
“Democracy depends on a free and independent media,” said Warren.
“When journalists are censored, denied information or intimidated or harassed for their work of informing the public the very heart of democracy itself is threatened,” said Warren.
”The IFJ is calling on the Government of Bangladesh to protect the media’s right to inform the public and ensure the safety of all journalists working in Bangladesh,” said Warren.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries