Bangladesh ruling party supporters use violence to obstruct reporters during elections
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns unacceptable violence against journalists during Bangladesh’s general elections on 7 January, when at least 12 reporters were attacked and expelled or denied entry to voting stations, in most cases by supporters of the ruling Awami League.
“Bangladesh’s general elections were marred by unacceptable violence against journalists. Ruling party supporters attacked reporters covering cases of electoral fraud. We call on the relevant authorities to launch an independent investigation so that those responsible are brought to justice. Furthermore, in a context of stifled media freedom, muzzled by governmental suppression of all criticism, we urge the newly reelected authorities to finally adopt strong measures to safeguard unrestricted Internet access and protect the freedom of the press enshrined in Bangladesh's constitution and freedom of expression, which is being obstructed by the draconian new Cyber Security Act. The government’s toxic control over news and information must end.
On a polling day marked by tension – with the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, boycotting the election – many journalists were physically attacked or were subjected to harassment and intimidation, and were either expelled from or were denied entry to voting stations. Most of the harassment and violence was the work of ruling Awami League supporters targeting reporters trying to cover irregularities and cases of fraud.
Physical and verbal attacks against journalists
When three journalists with the independent Daily Star newspaper – Arafat Rahaman, Dipan Nandy and Sirajul Islam Rubel – went to the Segunbagicha high school voting station in the capital, Dhaka, to confirm reports of “fake voters,” Awami League henchmen locked them in a room to prevent them investigating. Police eventually freed them.
At the voting station at the Nasirabad high school for boys in the eastern city of Chattogram, Awami League supporters snatched the phone of Mosarraf Shah, a reporter for the Prothom Alo daily newspaper, and deleted the photos and videos he had taken showing vote rigging.
When Mohiuddin Modhu, a reporter for privately-owned Jamuna Television, tried to investigate attempted voter fraud in the Dhaka district of Nawabganj, Awami League supporters chased him away and threw bricks at him as he fled, injuring him.
Awami League activists also threatened and expelled journalists from polling stations in the Dhaka-8 and Dhaka-12 voting districts. This was reported by Muktadir Rashid, the correspondent of the English-language daily New Age, and his photographer, Sourav Laskar, and by fellow New Age journalists Nasir Uz Zaman and Tanzil Rahaman.
In the northern district of Lalmonirhat, correspondent of Ananda TV Abdur Rahim and camera crew Masud Babu and Minhaz were attacked, sustaining damage to their cameras, when they went to the voting station at Purba Sardubi primary school to cover independent candidate Ataur Rahman’s abduction by Awami League supporters.
News sites blocked, foreign reporters denied visas
In another serious violation of the right to report, access to the website of the Daily Manab Zamin newspaper, one of the one of the government’s leading media critics, was blocked on 6 January, the eve of election day. The newspaper stressed that it had no internal technical issues when it reported the ongoing access problem in a Facebook message on 6 January. And one of its reporters, Tarique Choyon, said in a post on X (the former Twitter): “Our newspaper Daily Manab Zamin’s online edition is inaccessible in many places of Bangladesh. We have no technical flaws at all.”
Finally, the Bangladeshi authorities refused to issue visas to journalists from the headquarters of many leading international media outlets, including BBC News, The New York Times, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Al Jazeera. Most of the foreign reporters who managed to obtain visas were those based in the Indian capital, New Delhi. Some foreign reporters were also asked to sign a statement accepting that their photos and video footage would have to be approved by the Bangladeshi authorities before being sent, and could not harm the “national image.”