|2001 ANNUAL REPORT||- Asia -||
- Africa - Americas - Europe - Introduction - |
Middle East / North Africa -
Murder, attacks, kidnappings, blackmail and death threats made the year 2000 a bleak one for press freedom. More than 45 journalists were attacked, nine arrested and about 20 threatened. The violence affected all sectors of the media: publishing and broadcasting, national and local, public and private, in Bengali or in English. Journalists working for publications owned by political parties were prime targets for attack. Some publications are highly opinionated, defending the interests of the two main political groups that are engaged in a war of attrition: the ruling Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which, with an eye on the 2001 general election, has joined forces with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e Islami.
Two journalists were killed in Bangaldesh in 2000. The murder of Janakantha reporter and BBC stringer Shamsur Rahman in July shook the profession. The prime minister promised that a serious investigation would be conducted after hundreds of journalists staged a demonstration. On 1 January 2001 the police had not reached any firm conclusions, although they had pinpointed some suspects, particularly journalists whom Rahman had frequently accused of corruption in his reports. Criminal gangs and armed groups have no qualms about attacking journalists who dare to investigate their activities. Other "predators" who prey on press freedom include the youth wings of the main political parties, who often launch violent attacks on journalists who criticise them: the Chattra League, Chattra Dal and Chattra Shibir were responsible for more than half last year's assaults. The government and the parties did nothing to stop the violence. On the contrary, in October one minister told Awami League activists: "If you come across any journalists, break their bones". The minister also asked local authorities not to record complaints filed by journalists who were victims of assault. Similarly, in February Awami League members threatened to submit a bill introducing the death penalty for "insubordinate" journalists.
To stop this endemic violence, Sheikh Hasina's government promulgated a public security law at the start of the year. It empowers the police to detain a suspect for three months and deprives the suspect of the right to apply for bail. The measure, which was condemned by human rights organisations, had no effect on the wave of violence against journalists. On the other hand, in March a reporter was arrested and held for several months under the law after an argument with police officers.
Politicians frequently file libel complaints against journalists. These cases seldom result in convictions because the courts are practically paralysed. In November the government filed a libel complaint against the opposition newspaper Inqilab. The editor and a journalist face the death sentence if found guilty.
Most of the country's 250 dailies - total circulation 1.4 million - are published in Bengali. Investigations into alleged corruption have become increasingly frequent. In May, the prime minister announced the launch of the country's first privately owned over-the-air television channel, Ekushey TV, which put an end to the state monopoly. Nonetheless, the channel is forced to relay English newscasts from public television. As in the rest of the subcontinent, the Internet had a boom year in Bangladesh, and no obstacles to its expansion were reported.
Mir Illais Hossain, editor of the daily Dainik Bir Darpan, was shot dead by three masked men on 15 January in the city of Jhenaidah, in the south-west of the country. The journalist, who was also a former leader of the extreme-left party Sramajibi Mukti Andolon, had received death threats some weeks earlier from the armed Maoist groups that are rampant in the region. He had often condemned atrocities by these underground movements, and his family and colleagues claimed he was killed because of his reporting.
Shamsur Rahman, a journalist with the privately owned daily Janakantha, published in the capital, Dhaka, and a stringer to the Bengali-language service of the BBC, was killed in the western city of Jessore on 16 July. Two strangers burst into his office and shot him twice - in the head and chest - at point-blank range. The journalist, aged 43, had written many reports on the criminal activities of armed groups and gangs. He had escaped an earlier murder attempt in Jessore in March 1999. More recently, he had received anonymous threatening phone calls. A few days after the start of the inquiry, the police arrested several journalists in Jessore who were rivals of Rahman. They apparently wanted to take revenge for his allegations that they were working in collusion with organised crime. By 1 January 2001, all the suspects had been released and the investigation seemed to have reached deadlock.
Mohiuddin Murad, correspondent of the daily Janakantha in the south-eastern city of Lakhipur, was arrested by police on 10 March. They accused him of encouraging students to attack police officers. While covering end-of-year examinations at a secondary school, the journalist had criticised the methods used by the police to catch pupils accused of cheating unawares. On 19 March Murad was charged with "incitement to violence and rebellion" and taken into custody. It was the first time a journalist had been arrested and charged under the public security law passed in January 2000, which allows suspects to be held for 90 days with no opportunity to apply for bail. The journalist was released more than four months after his arrest.
On 28 June Mosharaf Hossain Kamal, a correspondent of Dainik Dinkal, one of the main dailies owned by the BNP, was arrested by police in the Barisal district of southern Bangladesh. The official reason given was "extortion", but his family claimed the real reason was a report he had written on police corruption. He is reported to have been beaten up at the police station. The journalist was released more than a week after his arrest.
Police arrested Aminur Rahman Taj, a crime reporter for the newspaper Ajker Kagoj, on 28 May as he was on an assignment at Dhaka police headquarters. The officers, who had no arrest warrant, took him straight to a police cell, where he was held for more than five hours. Later that day he was charged under article 501 of the Code of Criminal Procedure and released on bail. The journalist was accused of "tarnishing the image of the police and of the wives of two high-ranking state officials". He faces a maximum sentence of six years in jail. He had published a front-page report in the daily making allegations against a police official and the two women - although he did not mention them by name. He said the wives were responsible for influence trafficking, and were behind the hiring or promotion of some police officers. The daily had published a police denial the next day. For the same issue, editor Kazi Shahed Ahmed wrote an editorial condemning the arrest of Aminur Rahman Taj.
On 28 June Mosharraf Hossain Kamal, a reporter for Dainik Dinkal, was arrested in the southern district of Barisal. He was beaten up at the police station and accused of publishing a report on corruption among police officers. He was later charged with extortion.
Reporters Shakawat Hossain Badsah of Dainik Matribhumi and Mahfuzur Rahman of Dainik Janata were arrested by police at their Dhaka homes on 9 July. The police were apparently acting under pressure from local political activists, who accused them of writing critical articles. The reporters were released some hours later after their employers intervened on their behalf.
Sujit Nandi, a journalist with Dainik Arthaneeti, was arrested by police on 12 July as he was on his way to meet a contact at a Dhaka hotel. He was held for 13 hours before being released.
On 16 July Rafiqul Alam, correspondent of Ajker Kagoj in Fatikchari, Chittagong province, was arrested by police officers. He had published a series of reports on police corruption. He was freed the next day on the orders of a magistrate, even though the police had accused him of murder.
Anwar Hossain, correspondent of the daily Banglabazar Patrika, was attacked by a group of activists from the Dhaka University branch of the Chattra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, on 1 January. They threatened to kill him. The journalist had written a report making allegations against the branch leader. On the same day Anwar-al-Din, a reporter with Dainik Ittefaq, was attacked and threatened by Chattra League members.
On 5 January Zakir Hossain Sumon, a correspondent of the daily Ajker Kagoj, was attacked in Munshiganj, south of Dhaka, by members of Chattra Dal, the student wing of the opposition BNP. The students accused him of publishing reports criticising some of their organisation's activities. Shafiuddin Ahmed, a journalist and former chairman of the Association of Bangladeshi Journalists, was also injured after he tried to defend Sumon. Both journalists were take to hospital for treatment.
Shahadat Hossain Bacchu, a correspondent of Bhorer Kagoj and secretary of the Bagerhat Press Club in the south-west of the country, was set upon by members of a criminal gang on 30 January. He suffered serious head injuries. His attackers accused him of publishing reports about a court case involving the gang in the daily.
On 31 January Moshin Hossain Babul, publishing manager of Ajker Sathkira, was assaulted in Sathkira, south-western Bangladesh. The attacker threatened further reprisals if the journalist continued to investigate the activities of him and his gang. The journalist's motorbike was set on fire.
Mohsin Ali Angur, correspondent of the daily Janakantha, and Ainul Haque, correspondent of the daily Dainik Dinkal, in the western city of Meherpur were beaten by police officers on 11 March as they were taking photographs of students accused of cheating in end-of-year examinations. The officers seized their films and threw their cameras to the ground. Both journalists were taken to hospital.
On the same day M.A. Mamum, correspondent for the daily Janakantha in the border town of Chuadanga, western Bangladesh, was set upon by members of the Awami League. People at the scene intervened to prevent him being kidnapped. The party claims the journalist had been investigating crime in Chuadanga. Immediately after the attack, a group of witnesses staged a demonstration calling on the Awami League to publicly apologise to the journalist. Shortly afterwards, the party issued a press release apologising to the press club.
On 26 March fundamentalist Moslem activists attacked journalists who had come to Sylhet to cover a demonstration in support of a liberal writer who was staging a hunger strike at Sylhet University, in the north-east of the country. Ahmed Abid, correspondent of the newspaper Dainik Banglar Bani, suffered a broken arm and was slashed all over his body with a razor. A photographer from Prothom Alo, Kamal Mehdi, was set upon and his camera smashed by demonstrators. About ten other reporters were attacked or threatened by the demonstrators, who set fire to copies of Jugantor, Prothom Alo and Jugaveri.
Nur Muhammed, correspondent of the daily Manav Zamin in the town of Karimgonj, west of Dhaka, was the victim of an attempted kidnapping on 28 March. The three attackers tried to murder him, the journalist claimed. Neighbours intervened to prevent him being kidnapped. Two days earlier he had published a report of a fight at a secondary school. One of the young people quoted in the report is believed to be behind the assault.
A group of strangers set upon Serajuddin, correspondent of Dainik Banglar Bani in Mongla, south-west Bangladesh, as he was leaving the town press club on 29 March. The attackers threatened reprisals if he complained to the police.
Anwar Zahid, correspondent of the newspaper Inqilab in Faridpur district, was the victim of an attempt to strangle him by BNP activist Bachhu Mia on 16 April. During the night five home-made bombs went off outside the offices of Inqilab in Dhaka. The resulting fires caused damage but no injuries.
On 30 April Moniruzzaman Monir, correspondent of the newspaper Prothom Alo in Naogaon, western Bangladesh, was attacked by members of the Chattra League. They accused him of publishing a report about an attack on a school by supporters of the movement.
Riot police beat up photographers Abdus Samad Jewel of Janakantha, Kazi Borhan Ahmed of Manav Zamin and Shorab Alam of Sangbad as they were covering a demonstration by women students at Dhaka University on 2 May. The officer who gave orders for the attacks was suspended from duty for several days.
BNP activists set upon Abdus Salam of the fundamentalist newspaper Inqilab in Gazipur district on 3 May. They accused him of publishing a report on infighting between factions of the party.
On 8 May Molla Abdur Rob, correspondent of the newspaper Janmobhumi in the south-western district of Bagerhat, was set upon by members of the Chattra League. Police intervened to protect him.
Haris Mohammad, a crime reporter with Manab Thikana, was stabbed with a knife on 14 May in the north-eastern town of Kulaura. The attacker was the brother of a man charged with rape. The journalist had written a report of the case.
On 18 May students at Dhaka Agricultural College attacked journalists covering one of their demonstrations. Swaupan Rai of the private television channel Ekushey TV was given police protection after the assault.
Tanver Mahmud of the Bangladesh Observer and Mahbub Zaman Nahid of The Star were beaten up by Chattra League activists at Dhaka University on 20 May.
M. A. Mottaleb, correspondent of the newspaper Manav Zamin in Jalakati, southern Bangladesh, was attacked in the street by members of the Chattra League on 12 June. After he was taken to hospital, the attackers tracked him down and dragged him out of his bed, despite protests from medical staff. The journalist had reported on how members of the youth movement were planning a rowdy welcome for the prime minister when he visited the city.
On 17 July two journalists from the western region of Naogaon escaped murder attempts after writing reports on the involvement of armed groups in smuggling. The home of Masudur Rahman Ratan, correspondent of Banglar Bani, was set on fire but the journalist was unhurt. A car tried to run down Imtiaj Alam, a correspondent of UNB.
Chattra League members went on the rampage on 20 July, ransacking dozens of shops and the offices of the daily Manchitra in Sylhet, in the north-east of the country. They were protesting against the arrest of one of their leaders. At least two journalists were injured during the incidents.
During the night of 28 August Shahriar Kabir was stabbed by four unidentified men as he was on his way home from a lecture at Dhaka University. The men stopped him as he was riding his scooter and asked him to follow them. Shariar Kabir called out for help and tried to fight off his attackers, who ran off after injuring him in the arm and face. He filed a complaint at the police station.
Akhil Podhar, Janakantha correspondent at the Islamic University of Kushtia, western Bangladesh, was set upon by strangers on 24 September. He was on his way home when two men stopped him and asked him which newspaper he worked for. He told them his name and the name of his employer. The men attacked him with knives, and after receiving several stab wounds he managed to escape into one of the university buildings. He was later taken to hospital by the police.
At the start of October, Abu Taher, mayor of the town of Lakhipur in south-eastern Chittagong province and local leader of the Awami League, threatened to "break the limbs" of journalists who investigated his involvement in the disappearance of Nurul Islam, a BNP politician. He told them to "leave town or face the worst consequences". On 4 October, Sheikh Mamunur Rashid, a reporter from Dainik Manav Zamin, received death threats when he was in Lakhipur trying to find out about the kidnapping of Nurul Islam. Policemen, accompanied by municipal security officers, searched the hotel where Sheikh Mamunur Rashid, was staying, handled him roughly and threatened him with "reprisals". On 6 October Ekramul Haq Bulbul, a journalist with Prothom Alo, was forced to flee the town after being attacked by armed men. He was taken to hospital and treated for severe bruising. He had been investigating the mayor's involvement in the disappearance of the BNP politician. The next day, seven journalists filed complaints against Abu Taher.
At least two press correspondents at Mymensingh University of Agriculture, north of Dhaka, were attacked on 18 October by students who were angry about the journalists' coverage of their protest movement against the university authorities. The students assaulted the correspondents working for Muktakantha and Ittefaq Tanjir and ransacked the office where journalists met.
On 20 October a group of supporters of the Jubo League, which is dependent on the ruling party, attacked Sohrab Hossain, a journalist with the regional daily Loksamaj, published in Jessore, because of a report on the shortcomings of government aid to victims of flooding in the south of the country. One of the attackers, whom the reporter recognised, was arrested and later released after other league members staged a protest outside the police station.
Al Amin Shahriar, correspondent of the Dainik Manav Zamin in the southern district of Bhola, was beaten by Chattra League activists on 21 October after he published a report on the security situation. Some hours later, the newspaper's district offices were set on fire. The journalist filed a complaint against his attackers, who later went to his home and threatened him with further reprisals if he did not withdraw the complaint.
Anisur Rahim, editor of Sathkirar Chitra, was shot and seriously injured in Satkhira on 26 October when armed members of the ruling party attacked the newspaper office after failing to find him at the town press club. The attackers fired at him twice and also beat him on the arms and legs. The newspaper's offices were vandalised. The previous day, the minister of health and family welfare, Mozammel Hossain, had told Awami League members: "If you come across any journalists, break their bones". The minister was reacting to reports accusing local leaders of the ruling party of misappropriating funds intended for the victims of flooding in the region. Some newspapers had also accused the minister of mismanaging the operation, particularly by banning non-government organisations from coming to the aid of stricken villages. Following the minister's comment, about ten journalists from Satkhira decided to go into hiding.
Ahsanul Kabir, correspondent of the daily Dinkal in Kishoregonj, north of Dhaka, was attacked on 14 December by armed men who threatened to kill him. They were angry about reports published in October about a corruption scandal involving the son of a local official.
On 17 December armed men attacked the home of Giasuddin, correspondent of the dailies Ajker Batra and Ittefaq in Kataksthal, southern Bangladesh, throwing home-made bombs and threatening to come back and kill him.
Munirul Islam Litton, correspondent of Janakantha in the northern city of Sherpur, received death threats by post and telephone on 24 January. The messages came from a group of criminals who were angry about the daily's reports condemning their involvement in fraud and smuggling.
Shaukat Milton, Janakantha correspondent in Barisal, southern Bangladesh, received death threats on 15 February from Panama Faruk, one of the leaders of the Awami League youth movement about whom the journalist had published a report. The story was immediately taken up by the entire Bangladeshi press.
On 21 March Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury, a journalist specialising in diplomatic affairs for the opposition newspaper Dainik Dinkal, started receiving threats from NSI intelligence agents who accused him of "tarnishing the image" of Bangladesh. At a press conference the day before, the journalist had asked visiting US President Bill Clinton what he thought of politics in Bangladesh.
Municipal officials in Dhaka responsible for awarding public works contracts locked up a group of journalists from the country's leading dailies in a municipal building and threatened them with reprisals on 17 May. The journalists had published reports condemning mafia-style practices at the municipality.
Awami League activists threatened to kill two journalists, Sheikh Mamunur Rashid, a reporter with the daily Manav Zamin, and Al Amin Shahriar, the newspaper's correspondent in the southern city of Bhola, on 23 May.
On 17 June Mohamad Delwar Hossain, a journalist with the daily Jugantor, received death threats from an armed group against which he had made allegations in a report on criminal activities.
During July Jahangir Alam Aakash, a journalist with Sangbad, received death threats by letter, telephone and from people in the street. The origin of the threats seemed to be the Chattra Shibir, the student wing of the Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami.
Mhabub Alam, correspondent of Dainik Dinkal at the University of Rajshahi, northern Bangladesh, received death threats from Chattra Shibir on 5 July. He had written reports about violence on the campus by members of the movement.
Farazi Ajmal Hossain, a reporter with the daily Ittefaq and president of the Jessore Press Club, received phone calls threatening to kill him on 25 August. On the same day, a shroud and anonymous letter forbidding him to "write anything whatever" were sent to his home. The letter also told him he should "get ready to die".
In September Shariar Kabir, a journalist and film-maker, received a series of anonymous calls threatening reprisals if he carried out his plan to make a documentary about the rise of fundamentalism on the subcontinent and particularly Kashmir.
Tauhidul Islam, a journalist specialising in crime for Inqilab, received phone calls threatening to kill him at his home and his office on 23 September, after the newspaper published a report about a criminal gang led by Tokai Sagor. The gang threatened the journalist and his family with "reprisals".
On 21 October Mostafizur Rahman Titu, correspondent of the daily Janakantha for Gazipur district, escaped a kidnap attempt by members of armed groups thanks to the intervention of journalists and passers-by.
Chattra League activists, angry about a report on the arrest of one of their leaders, ransacked the offices of the local daily Jalalabad in Sylhet, north-east Bangladesh, on 8 October and threatened to kill journalists on the premises.
Three armed men forced Mowarul Islam, a journalist with the daily Manav Zamin, to get into their car in a Dhaka street on 27 October. The journalist's protests attracted the attention of passers-by and the men drove off. The journalist said he suspected political activists of being behind the attempted kidnapping.
On 31 October Moniruzzaman Shamim, correspondent of Dainik Dinkal at the University of Jatiyatabadi, Rajshahi, western Bangladesh, was threatened with "reprisals" by members of the BNP student wing if he did not give up his job with the newspaper. The students accused him of working for a "dishonest newspaper" and tore up his identity card.
An armed group led by Mohiuddin warned Nikhil Chatterjee, correspondent of the daily Sangbad, on 4 December that they would "cut off his legs". The incident took place in the town of Patuakhali, in the south of the country. A few days earlier the reporter had criticised the group's activities.
On 7 December Wahidul Haque, correspondent of the daily Jugantor in Narayanganj, east of Dhaka, received death threats from an armed group about which he had published reports.
Pressure and obstruction
Two people threw a bomb at the building that houses the offices of the daily Dainik Azadi in Chittagong on 4 January. The resulting explosion caused no major damage. A few minutes later, another bomb damaged the editor's car.
Police seized a camera belonging to Asaduzaman Asad, a photographer with Dainik Dinkal, as he was taking pictures of an opposition demonstration in which some newspaper editors were planning to take part on 8 February. The camera was given back to him a few hours later.
On 8 March police searched the offices of the opposition newspaper Dainik Dinkal. The officers, who had arrest warrants issued by a magistrate at the Narayanganj court against three senior editorial staff and a reporter, are said to have insulted journalists who were on the premises and damaged equipment. Publishing manager Akhter-ul-Alam, sales manager A. K. M. Mossaraf Hossain, publisher Professor Majidul Alam and the newspaper's correspondent in the port city of Narayanganj, Shamsul Alam Liton, were not arrested because they were out of the office at the time. The search followed a libel complaint filed on 27 February by Shamim Osman, the member of parliament for Narayanganj, over a series of reports on ties between organised crime and the city authorities.
Eight thousand copies of the newspapers Janakantha, Prothom Alo and Jugantor were seized and set alight by Awami League militants on 17 April because they had published on the national holiday.
Police searched the home of Tariqul Haq Tariq, correspondent of Prothom Alo in the western city of Kushtia on 1 May. They were looking for the journalist, who was out at the time. The local police chief apologised to him a few days later.
A false murder allegation was made against Moshin Ali Angur, correspondent of the newspaper Janakantha, by an official for Meherpur district, west of Dhaka, on 25 June. A police officer who asked not to be named said the official was known for doing this as a way of silencing journalists who criticised him in their reports.
On 31 July the food and agriculture minister, who was the ruling party candidate in a by-election, had two journalists thrown out of a polling station in Jhalakati, southern Bangaldesh, accusing them of "biased" coverage of the election campaign.
Strangers planted two home-made bombs outside the offices of the weekly Progoter Din in Faridpur district, west of Dhaka, on 2 September. The explosion caused damage but no injuries.
Police seized all copies of the Asian edition of the US magazine Newsweek on 18 September and banned the "importation, sale or possession" of the weekly in Bangladesh. The latest issue contained a photograph of a woman whose arms and legs were covered in slogans in the Farsi language. The government said the picture might shock Moslems, the country's religious majority. The manager of the company that distributes Newsweek in Bangladesh said the police had no warrant for the seizure.
During the night of 3 October, strangers attacked the offices of the daily Inqilab in Dhaka, injuring a security guard. Police arrested one of the attackers, a political science student.
During the night of 13 to 14 November, Dhaka police searched the offices of the Bengali-language newspaper Inqilab and the homes of Ahmed Bahauddin, the fundamentalist daily's publishing manager, A. Baquiullah, publisher, and journalist A. Mosharaff. They were accused of libel for publishing a parody of the national anthem in the 20 October issue and face the death penalty or life imprisonment under section 124A of the penal code. The next day police arrested Mr Mainuddin, director of the Inqilab press group. During the night of 13 November the three defendants appeared before an emergency sitting of the supreme court and asked to be freed on bail. The court asked the authorities to suspend the arrests ahead of the first hearing, scheduled for six days later. On 16 November prime minister Sheikh Hasina criticised the supreme court judges for meeting in the middle of the night to grant bail to the journalists. The controversy grew, with the government, the opposition, the judges and the press all eager to have their say. Dozens of complaints about the parody were filed against the newspaper all over the country by people close to the government. In southern Barisal province, the newspaper was banned by the local authorities and the next day Awami League members set fire to hundreds of copies. Six days later, demonstrators attacked the Inqilab offices in Khulna, in the south-west of the country. Mr Mainuddin was freed on 30 November.
It was learned on 7 December that the Bangladeshi foreign minister had asked his Indian counterpart to have the newspaper Mayer Dak, published in Calcutta, banned. The Bangladeshi publisher had already been threatened by an official of the Bangladeshi consulate in the border region. He was accused by the government of "misinforming readers about the situation in India and Bangladesh".