Bangladeshi ruling party tries to cover up role in journalist’s death

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) accuses Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League of trying to conceal its role in the death of a journalist who was reportedly shot by an Awami League official during rioting in the northwestern district of Sirajganj.

Abdul Hakim Shimul, a local correspondent for the daily Samakal, was shot on 2 February while covering clashes between members of rival Awami League factions, some of who were protesting against Halimul Haque Miru, the major of the town of Shahzadpur.

The authorities have not yet established the precise circumstances of Shimul’s death or whether he was shot deliberately. But a police officer who was present said: “The mayor opened fire ignoring my repeated requests. Only the mayor fired, no one else did. He fired several times.

Shimul was taken to a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound to the head and died the next day. His widow quickly filed a complaint against the mayor, his brother, 15 other Awami League members and 20 unidentified persons. On 5 February, the Sirajganj police arrested the mayor while the local Awami League branch called for his dismissal as the party’s local secretary.

At the same time, health minister Mohammad Nasim announced that Shimul’s widow had been offered a position with the Essential Drugs Company, a pharmaceutical company that is wholly state-owned.

We note that the authorities have arrested Shahzadpur’s mayor, we urge them to bring the perpetrator of this murder to justice and, given the Awami League’s repeated association with violence, we ask them to seriously consider its criminal responsibility,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

Meanwhile, the latest political reactions are unacceptable. Senior Awami League officials have not only failed to vigorously condemn violence by their supporters but are now also trying to cover up the case and to gag the journalist’s widow, who has brought a complaint against many Awami League members.

We urge Shimul’s widow not to accept this offer, which is designed to buy her silence, and we advise her instead to bring a complaint against the Awami League itself, and against Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader, who are the party’s most senior officials.

Bangladesh continues to register a very high level of violence by its political parties and their supporters, above all by the ruling Awami League. In 2013, the Bangladesh Publishers Council voiced concern about the violence and urged the country’s political parties to get their activists to stop targeting journalists.

Prime Minister Hasina’s government often displays hostility towards media outlets that criticize it or expose its failings. RSF issued a press release in February 2016 condemning Hasina’s harassment of Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam.

Bangladesh is ranked 144th out of 180 countries inRSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 07.02.2017