Bangladesh: Internet throttled, journalists attacked during parliamentary elections

All 3G and 4G internet services were shut down and journalists were attacked during parliamentary elections in Bangladesh on December 30. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the throttling of the internet services and the attacks on journalists and demands commitment from the winning Awami League (AL) party for the free flow of information and safety of journalists.

Bangladeshi people read newspapers carrying headlines of the general election results in Dhaka on December 31, 2018. Indranil MUKHERJEE / AFP

Ruling AL emerged a landslide winner in the general election for the third consecutive term in power amidst the opposition allegations of rigged polls. Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) ordered shutting down 3G and 4G internet services on December 29 and although the mobile internet was restored for a few hours in the evening of the polls day, it was later shut down again until further notice. The services were also cut off on December 27 for 10 hours.

On the poll day that saw at least 18 people dead and more than 200 injured in clashes, at least seven journalists were assaulted in Dhaka and Chattogram, while a number of journalists covering polls faced obstructions from activists of political parties and law enforcers. Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo of The Daily Star and Al Amin, a staff reporter of Chattogram-based online news portal, were attacked by the AL cadres while senior reporter of Bangla daily Manab Zamin Kafi Kamal was assaulted after casting his vote in Dhaka.

Award-winning photographer Shahidul Alam, who was released from prison last month, was also injured in a scuffle outside a polling centre. A reporter and a photographer from the Bengali tabloid Manabzamin were also assaulted while covering the elections in the capital Dhaka. Another two photojournalists from the Manob Kantho daily were also injured when they were attacked by unknown assailants.

Meanwhile, a private television station Jamuna TV claimed that was taken off the air on the eve of the election by the cable operators without any explanation. The Daily Star also reported that a number of its journalists were obstructed in different ways, including denial of entry to polling centres, by on-duty law enforcement agency members and party cadres in various polling stations despite possessing the legal press cards.

Earlier on December 24, two dozen masked men attacked a group of reporters who were covering elections campaigns with hockey sticks and batons. The assailants injured about 10 journalists mainly from Jugantor daily and Jamuna TV in a hotel in Nawabgonj, a city 40km away from the capital, Dhaka. They also smashed hotel windows and vandalised more than a dozen vehicles belonging to media outlets or privately owned.

The IFJ said: "The IFJ condemns the throttling of the internet, all the attacks against journalists and the violations of press freedom before and during the Election Day in Bangladesh. Free flow of information is essential in all democratic systems and internet shut downs hamper not only citizens’ rights to information but also impacts access to the important services for the journalists and the public. The IFJ urges the Bangladeshi authorities to ensure the free flow of information and to duly investigate all the attacks on media and bring those responsible to justice.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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