Bangladesh: Journalists threatened with violence for reporting misuse of flood-relief funds

October 30, 2000

Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister, People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Office of the Prime Minister
Dhaka, Bangladesh

VIA FAX: 011-88-02-811-3244

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly alarmed that a minister in your government has threatened journalists reporting in the flood-ravaged district of Satkhira, where two journalists were attacked recently for their coverage of the misuse of disaster relief funds.

On October 25, Minister for Social Welfare Mozammel Hossain encouraged ruling party members to attack the press: “Wherever you will find journalists, break their bones,” Hossain said in a closed-door session with Awami League activists and local officials, according to local press accounts confirmed by CPJ. Several journalists in Satkhira have gone into hiding for fear of attack, according to the Dhaka-based Media Watch.

Hossain, who is the federal official in charge of overseeing relief operations in Satkhira, was reacting to press reports that ruling party members have siphoned money intended to help the victims of severe flooding in southwestern Bangladesh.

Even before Hossain made his provocative remarks, local journalists had complained of threats and intimidation by activists from the Awami Jubo League, the youth wing of the ruling party. On October 20, a group of Jubo League activists assaulted Sohrab Hossain, a reporter with the regional Bengali-language daily Loksamaj, after he had written an article about problems with the government’s flood relief efforts. In response to a complaint filed by the journalist, police arrested Jubo League leader Nurul Islam. However, Islam was swiftly released after Awami League activists besieged the police station and staged a demonstration to protest his detention.

On October 26 at around 7:30 p.m., a group led by local Awami League leader Asadul Haq-a village chairman in Debhata Upazila, a sub-district of Satkhira-ransacked the office of the local daily Satkhirar Chitro, and assaulted Anisur Rahim, the newspaper’s editor. The attack followed the newspaper’s reporting on the misappropriation of disaster relief funds. The assailants clubbed Rahim’s face, hands, and legs, and the journalist had to be taken to the Satkhira General Hospital for treatment.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ condemns these politically orchestrated attacks against the press in Satkhira. Local journalists have sent a formal letter to Your Excellency requesting the withdrawal of Mozammel Hossain from his posting in Satkhira following his irresponsible and reckless remarks. The appeal also named several other local political leaders who have publicly disparaged the press for their critical reporting of flood relief efforts.

CPJ regrets that during Your Excellency’s October 26 visit to Satkhira, no member of your staff met with local journalists to address their security concerns.

We respectfully urge you to order an immediate investigation into the attacks against Sohrab Hossain and Anisur Rahim, and to pledge publicly that your administration will do everything in its power to ensure that those who use force to silence and intimidate the press will be brought to justice. As the leader of the Awami League, Your Excellency must guarantee that the party does not continue to tolerate abuses committed by its members.

CPJ asks also that Your Excellency honor the requests made by journalists in Satkhira, to guarantee their security and to recall Mozammel Hossain from his post there pending a full inquiry into his role in directing violence against the press.

We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters, and await your response. Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director