Political unrest sparks violent attacks on journalists and media

Reporters Without Borders strongly condemns a major wave of attacks on media and journalists, including bombings and shootings, which began six days ago and which is linked to opposition demands for a neutral interim government prior to elections scheduled for January. “The violence against journalists is intolerable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Justice must be rendered. The authorities must identify those responsible and bring them to trial. We support the statements made by the Editors’ Council and Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), which have firmly condemned these attacks. “It is imperative that the authorities should be able to ensure effective security for journalists, so that they can work without fear, and that the political parties do not encourage their supporters to target journalists.” The attacks on the media began when an opposition demonstration degenerated on 25 October, and continued during a 60-hour “shut-down” called by opposition sectors to press demands for a neutral government for 90 days to establish a free and impartial environment for parliamentary elections in January. Schools and shopping centres closed and public transport halted although the prime minister urged Bangladeshis to ignore the strike call. Members of the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami began attacking the offices of certain Dhaka-based media, especially privately-owned TV stations, with home-made bombs on 25 October. The targets included Channel 71, Desh TV, Mohona TV, My TV and the newspapers Bohrer Kagoj and BDnews24.com. Those injured included Channel 71 Newroom's editor Zakaria Biblop, who was taken to a military hospital in a critical condition although his condition is no longer life-threatening. Masudur Rahman, a cameraman with privately-owned Channel-i, was injured by bullet fragments when police opened fire in Dhaka to disperse a protest by Jubo Dal, a group that supports the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Kafi Kamal, a journalist with the daily Manabzamin, was injured when a bomb went off outside BNP headquarters, while Jamaat-e-Islami activists attacked Rashed Nizam, a journalist with Channel 24. Abdus Salam of Shomoy TV and Sheikh Tofazzal Hossain of RTV were the victims of similar attacks in the western city of Rajshahi. Hossain was rushed to hospital in a critical condition after he was beaten with clubs, his camera was smashed and his personal effects were stolen. On 29 October, Jamaat-e-Islami activists attacked Abu Habib of the daily Dainik Janmabhumi as he was covering vandalism in the village of Kaliganj. He was clubbed, his camera and mobile phone were seized and his thumb was almost cut off. He was rushed to Sathkira Sadar Hospital and from there to a specialist hospital. In Narayanganj, a town near Dhaka, four local reporters – Rasel Ahmed of Kaler Kantho, Riaz Hossain of Ajkaler Khabor, G.M Shahid of Shakaler Khabor and Imdadul Haque Dulal of Arthoniti Protidin – were injured when suspected BNP members threw homemade bombs at their vehicles, which were marked “Press.” They were briefly hospitalized for treatment. In the northwestern district of Thakurgaon, NTV reporter Luftar Rahman Mithu was injured while covering clashes between BNP activists and members of the ruling Awami League. Maasranga TV journalist Badrul Islam’s motorcycle was set on fire during these clashes but Islam was unhurt. In the southeastern city of Chittagong, Nasir Uddin Tota of Bangla Vision TV and Abul Hasnat of ATN News were injured when they went to help Mohammad Farid Uddin, an ATN cameraman who was being attacked by young Jamaat-e-Islami activists. In the southwestern city of Jessore, activists attacked Labual Haq Ripon of the daily Dainik Samajer Katha while a bomb was thrown at Sakirul Kabir Riton, the secretary-general of the Jessore Union of Journalists and a reporter for Boishaki Television. Many vehicles carrying media personnel were also attacked in the cities of Bogra and Noakhali. The Bangladesh Editors’ Council voiced concern about the attacks in a press release yesterday and urged the country’s political parties to get their activists to stop targeting journalists. The statement also stressed the importance of active and independent media in a democratic society. The Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) issued a similar statement. These attacks are the worst that the media have had to endure in the past eight years. Bangladesh is ranked 144th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Credit photo: the Daily Star
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Updated on 20.01.2016