April 24, 2001
Her Excellency Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister, People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Office of the Prime Minister
VIA FAX: 011-88-02-811-3244
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly alarmed by the frequency and severity of violent attacks against journalists in Bangladesh, and urges your government to take immediate action to ensure that these crimes are prosecuted vigorously.
In the past week alone, a journalist died of fatal injuries sustained during an attack by armed kidnappers. Another had his leg amputated after being shot and knifed by assailants, and two journalists were beaten up and harassed by a group led by an official of the ruling party.
- Shortly before midnight on April 21, Nahar Ali, a correspondent for the Khulna-based, Bengali-language daily Anirban, died while undergoing treatment at Khulna Medical College Hospital. Late on the night of April 17, masked men kidnapped Ali from his home in the village of Shovna, according to local press reports. The assailants beat him severely and broke his legs and arms before abandoning him on the outskirts of his village. Ali was eventually found, unconscious and severely tortured, and taken to the hospital in Khulna, a major city in southwestern Bangladesh. CPJ sources say that Ali, who worked as the Dumuria sub-district correspondent for Anirban, may have been killed for his reporting on the activities of local criminal syndicates. Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder, according to an April 24 report in the Dhaka-based, English-language daily The Independent.
- On the morning of April 20, Prabir Shikder, Faridpur correspondent for the national Bengali-language daily Janakantha, was on a reporting assignment when he was ambushed by a group of armed men just outside Faridpur town. The attackers had been waiting by the roadside in a van, according to eyewitness accounts recorded in the local press, and threw several Molotov cocktails at Shikder as he approached on his motorcycle. Several of the men then shot the journalist and stabbed him repeatedly before fleeing the scene. The reporter was rushed to Faridpur Medical College Hospital, and later transferred to the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases in Dhaka. Doctors have amputated Shikder’s right leg, which was shattered by bullets. The journalist also sustained multiple stab injuries and bullet wounds in his right hand and arm. Local journalists say Shikder was most likely attacked for his reporting on the alleged collaboration of prominent local figures with Pakistani forces during the 1971 war for independence. Shikder had also covered organized crime and its links to local police.
- At around 1:30 a.m. on April 19, a group of men led by Mamunur Rashid Mamun, a ward commissioner in the Chittagong City Corporation, forced their way into the offices of the local Bengali-language daily Purbakon. The group physically assaulted chief sub editor Iskander Ali Chowdhury and journalist Jalaluddin Ahmed Chowdhury, and forced them out of the building. The two were threatened and then shoved into a nearby roadside ditch. In an interview published today by the Bengali-language daily Sangbad, Mamun admits going to the Purbakon office, but denies attacking the journalists. Mamun maintains that he visited the newspaper office to ask why Purbakon, an independent paper, did not give favorable coverage to the ruling Awami League. In the front-page interview, Mamun also states that he had the blessings of senior party officials and is confident that “Nobody can touch me.” Mamun added that he does not believe he will be arrested, though police in Panchlaish Thana have registered a case against him under the Public Safety Act. Perhaps no case has been more widely publicized than the vicious assault in January of Tipu Sultan, a reporter for the United News of Bangladesh in Feni. Despite ample evidence that Sultan was attacked on the orders of Joynal Hazari, an Awami League member of parliament from Feni, no serious efforts have been made to prosecute his case. Sultan remains hospitalized in Dhaka with multiple broken bones and fractures in his hands, arms, and legs, and may suffer permanent disabilities if he does not receive specialized orthopedic treatment.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ is shocked that your administration continues to tolerate attacks against the press in Bangladesh, with the result that criminals apparently believe they can target journalists with total impunity.
Your Excellency, as the leader of the Awami League, has a special obligation to ensure that party leaders such as Joynal Hazari and Mamunur Rashid Mamun are brought to justice. CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to order the transfer of all four cases mentioned above out of the hands of local authorities. These investigations should be undertaken at the highest level, by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Such action would send a reassuring signal to the country’s besieged press. We wish to be kept informed about the progress of these investigations, and about other steps Your Excellency is taking to curb the high incidence of attacks against the press in Bangladesh. We thank you for your attention to these urgent matters and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper