Bangladesh: Surge in violence against reporters orchestrated by local officials
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Bangladeshi government to ensure that
physical attacks on two journalists in separate incidents in the past week do not go
unpunished. Both reporters were badly injured while covering irregularities in the
distribution of government food aid to people unable to work because of a coronavirus
Sagor Chowdhury, a video-blogger and editor of the 360 Degrees news site, was left with swollen, black eyes, multiple neck lesions and bruises all over his body after being beatenon the morning of 31 March in Borhanuddin, in the south coast district of Bhola, by five men led by Nabil Haider, the son of a local council leader, who tried to strangle him.
Chowdhury was attacked after posting a video showing that rice sent by the central government for distribution to local fishermen – who were banned from fishing under the lockdown – was in fact being sold on the black market. Haider threatened to kill Chowdhury if he reposted the video on social networks.
Shah Sultan Ahmed, a reporter for the Sangbad Pratidin newspaper in the northeastern district of Habiganj, was seriously injured when he was attacked on 1 April by about 25 men led by a local council chairman armed with a cricket bat.
At least five other journalists, including Mujibur Rahman, a reporter for the Dainik Amar Sangbad daily newspaper, Bulbul Ahmed of TV Channel S, and Habiganj Sultan, a reporter for Dainik Protidiner Sangbad, were also attacked when they went to his aid.
Ahmed was attacked for reporting irregularities in the distribution of food packages to poor families and, in particular, for his interview with the representative of one of the families who said he had been given only 5 kilos of rice instead of the 10 kilos that had been promised.
“It is intolerable that journalists trying to cover the situation and rights of the most disadvantaged sectors of the population should end up in hospital,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“These horrific outbursts of violence are all the more unacceptable for openly coming from local political representatives. We call on justice minister Anisul Huq to do everything necessary to ensure that the perpetrators and instigators of these attacks are tried before independent courts.”
After Chowdhury filed a complaint, the police arrested Haider, who had filmed the attack on Facebook Live. In Habiganj, all of the injured journalists were rushed to hospital. The police said they would begin an investigation when the victims were able to file a complaint.
A third case of violence was narrowly avoided on the evening of 31 March in the capital, Dhaka, when Habib Khan, a reporter for The New Age newspaper, saw a gang of drug dealers, whose activities he had covered earlier that day, arrive on motorcycles outside his home in the district of Tangail, and begin to attack it. He immediately alerted the police, who came quickly and chased the attackers away.
Bangladesh is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.