Journalist murdered

New York, January 15, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the brutal murder of Manik Saha, a veteran journalist and press freedom activist, who was targeted and killed today in a bomb attack in the southwestern city of Khulna.

Saha, a correspondent with the daily New Age and a contributor to the BBC’s Bengali-language service, was on his way home from the Khulna Press Club by rickshaw when unidentified assailants stopped his vehicle and threw a bomb at Saha’s head, according to local journalists. The bomb detonated, and decapitated Saha, killing him instantly, according to The Associated Press. The assailants fled the scene.

Police have launched an investigation into the murder and suspect that members of the region’s outlawed Maoist guerrilla groups may be responsible for the attack, according to the online edition of The New Nation newspaper. No arrests have been made, and no one has claimed responsibility for the murder.

A former reporter with the daily Sangbad, Saha had 20 years of journalism experience and was known for his bold reporting on the Khulna region’s criminal gangs, drug traffickers, and Maoist insurgents, said local journalists. According to these sources, in recent days, Saha felt that he was increasingly in danger of attack in reprisal for his reporting. They said that he told colleagues that he had received several death threats that he suspected may have come from criminal gangs.

Saha’s murder brought strong condemnation from Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who pledged in a letter to Saha’s family that authorities would find the killers and punish them. Local journalists and press freedom groups in Khulna have also protested Saha’s murder.

Saha, who was active in Bangladesh’s press freedom community, was the former president of the Khulna Press Club and worked closely with the Bangladesh Center for Development, Journalism and Communication, a local press freedom group.

Bangladesh is one of the most violent countries in the world for journalists, especially in rural areas where CPJ has documented numerous attacks against journalists.

According to CPJ research, Saha, 45, was the third journalist to be murdered in the Khulna region in the last four years. Harunur Rashid, a reporter for the Bengali-language newspaper Dainik Purbanchal, was shot and killed by gunmen on March 2, 2002, and Nahar Ali, a correspondent for the Khulna-based, Bengali-language daily Anirban, died as a result of injuries sustained after being beaten by unknown assailants on April 21, 2001. No one has been charged in either case.

“We are shocked and deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague Manik Saha,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on authorities to pursue and prosecute Saha’s killers to the fullest extent of the law.”