New York, November 12, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is investigating the motives behind a bomb attack on five journalists in Feni in southeastern Bangladesh on November 10. Police suspect that the assailants targeted one of the journalists, Bakhtiar Islam Munna, the local Feni correspondent for the daily Ittefaq and for the wire service United News of Bangladesh (UNB), because he is scheduled to testify in an assault case involving journalist Tipu Sultan, said local news reports.
“We are outraged by this brazen attack on an important witness in the trial of the men accused of assaulting Tipu Sultan,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Those responsible must be found and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, so that a safe and fair trial may move forward.”
The group of five journalists included Munna; Osman Harun Mahmud Dulal, a correspondent for the daily Janakantha; Shahjalal Ratan, a reporter for the daily Jugantor; Muhammed Jalal Uddin, a reporter for the daily Manabzamin; and Asaduzzaman Dara, a correspondent for the daily Bhorer Kagoj. They were standing on the street talking on the evening of November 10 when the assailants threw a homemade bomb at them and fled the scene, according to local news reports. None of the journalists were injured, but the explosion created a panic among local residents. Police are investigating the incident, but no arrests have been made.
On November 5, the trial of the men accused of assaulting Tipu Sultan opened in Feni almost three years after Sultan, then a reporter for the UNB, was abducted and brutally beaten with iron rods and wooden bats. His assailants crushed the bones in his hands, arms, and legs. Local politician Joynal Hazari has been charged with ordering the January 25, 2001, attack, which occurred after Sultan published an article that accused Hazari of abuse of power. Hazari fled the country soon after the attack and is in hiding in India, according to local news reports. He was formally indicted on assault charges with 12 of his associates on October 14, 2003.
On October 24, a close associate of Hazari’s, Sukhdev Nath Tapan, was arrested for plotting to kill witnesses in Sultan’s trail, according to a UNB report. Hazari also called Sultan and threatened him and Munna in June, according to Sultan, who also said that Hazari phoned him in August when the journalist was visiting his home in Feni and threatened him again.
Hazari and six of his associates are being tried in absentia for Sultan’s abduction and assault. The other six associates pled not guilty in October, and will appear in court. The next hearing in the trial is scheduled for December 3.
After undergoing numerous surgeries and years of physical therapy, Sultan is working again as a journalist. In 2002, CPJ honored his courage with an International Press Freedom Award.