The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the safety of Shawkat Milton, a reporter for the Bengali-language national daily Janakantha who went into hiding on March 14 after learning that police were about to arrest him. The journalist had been covering campaign abuses committed by officials in the run-up to today's local elections in Barisal, a city in southern Bangladesh.
In the weeks before the elections, the government ordered the army into Barisal following clashes between armed supporters of rival political candidates. Some candidates also reportedly gave money in exchange for votes.
Milton, a Barisal-based correspondent and outspoken press freedom activist, has been targeted several times for his political reporting. In 2002, activists associated with the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) filed a series of criminal complaints accusing him of offenses ranging from criminal defamation to possession of explosives. Local journalists say that these complaints are part of a harassment campaign by officials angered by his reporting.
Milton has also been physically assaulted. According to Janakantha, in January 2002, Kabir Uddin Hannu, a municipal commissioner in Barisal and the district secretary of the Jatiya Party, assaulted Milton on a street in the city. Though Hannu was arrested due to pressure from local journalists, he was released on bail and has not been prosecuted for the attack.
In September 2002, Milton was seriously injured by BNP activists who assaulted him and other journalists during a public meeting held in Barisal to protest the government's closure of the private broadcaster Ekushey Television. When the journalists attempted to file a case against their assailants, they discovered that police had already filed two false cases against them in response to complaints lodged by BNP activists. Fearing arrest or further physical reprisals, Milton went into hiding for several months. He resumed reporting in Barisal in late November 2002.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ asks your government to ensure that Shawkat Milton is not harassed or persecuted for his reporting. We respectfully call on Your Excellency, as the head of the government and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to guarantee that government officials and party activists do not interfere with the right of all journalists to work freely, without fear of reprisal.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and await your response .