“Over 100 people on motorcycles stormed into our office at around 12:15 p.m.,” journalist Arif Hossain Kanak told media outlets, describing the start of the raid on Dainik Somoyer Narayanganj, a local daily newspaper based in the Dhaka suburb of Narayanganj, on 12 February.
The entire staff were the victims of the carefully planned operation. After smashing surveillance cameras and destroying the recordings they contained, they threatened to kill the editor and said they would return if an apology was not published in the next day’s issue.
“We will set fire to this office and shoot your editor dead," they warned.
This punitive raid was prompted by an article in the previous day’s issue about a police investigation involving Ajmeri Osman, a person famous in Narayanganj for being the nephew of a local parliamentarian who is a member of Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League.
Videos that members of the newspaper’s staff recorded on their smartphones show that the raid was led by Awami League activists. “It’s clear that Ajmeri’s supporters were hired to launch the attack,” Dainik Somoyer Narayanganj editor Zabed Ahmed Juel told RSF.
RSF has confirmed that the police arrested eight suspects on 13 February but released them the next day. No one has been charged and no other arrest has been made in the five days since the raid.
“We call on Anisul Huq, the minister for law, justice and parliamentary affairs, to do what is necessary to ensure that the perpetrators and instigators of this unacceptable operation, which was designed to threaten and intimidate, do not go unpunished,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We also call on Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader to firmly condemn these acts by members of his party, which – as an organisation that claims to be committed to democracy – cannot tolerate such press freedom violations.”
Ever since Awami League president Sheikh Hasina began her second stint as prime minister in 2009, there has been a steady increase in the number, frequency, violence and intensity of attacks by Awami League activists on journalists who criticise the party’s leaders.
Even journalists based abroad are the targets of reprisals and, as RSF reported last October, pressure is put on them via close relatives still in Bangladesh, who are subjected to judicial harassment and even physical attacks.
Bangladesh is ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.