Dhaka, March 3, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s violent attacks on at least two journalists covering a student demonstration at Dhaka University.
The March 2 demonstration turned violent after police broke up a group of students, who had gathered to protest the February 27 knife attack on Dhaka University professor and writer Humayun Azad. According to local journalists, the police used batons and tear gas to disperse the crowd, and student activists from the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s student wing, the Jatiyatabi Chhatra Dhal (JCD), attacked the student protesters.
Firoz Chowdhury, the chief photographer of the popular Bangladesh-language daily Prothom Alo, was at the university taking photos of the protest when JCD activists began beating the students. When the activists noticed him taking their picture, a group of as many as 15 JCD members surrounded Chowdhury, attacking him, and smashing his digital camera, Chowdhury told CPJ. Chowdhury was hospitalized at Dhaka’s Shamrita Hospital with wounds on his back, shoulders, and chest.
Police beat Mainul Hossain Chowdhury (no relation), with the Bangladesh-language daily Ajker Kagoj, even after he identified himself as a reporter. He received treatment for a fractured leg and a head injury, according to local journalists. Witnesses from the scene told CPJ that as many as six or seven other journalists were wounded in the attack. According to the Dhaka-based Daily Star, as many as 100 students were also injured in the attack.
In a meeting with Bangladesh’s Home Minister, members of a CPJ delegation, who are traveling in Bangladesh, raised concern about yesterday’s attacks. Local journalists told CPJ that they believe the police and JCD members were deliberately targeting them.
“We condemn these violent attacks on our colleagues,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Abi Wright. “Journalists must be allowed to safely cover events in Bangladesh without fear of reprisal. The police and activists responsible for these attacks must be held accountable for these brutal acts.”
Political tensions have increased in Bangladesh with the opposition Awami League party calling four general strikes in the last 16 days and the brutal attack on Professor Azad in February. Azad was knifed in the face by unknown assailants apparently in retaliation for his fictionalized writing about fundamentalism. He survived the attack but is still being treated at the Combined Military Hospital in Dhaka.