At least eight journalists attacked in Dhaka campus unrest

New York, September 14, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the violent attacks by pro-government activists on at least eight journalists covering demonstrations on the Dhaka University campus in the capital, Dhaka, last Saturday, September 11.

Members of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s youth wing, the Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD), went on a rampage around midday, attacking opposition student demonstrators with sticks and iron rods, injuring at least 40 protesters, according to Bangladeshi news reports. Six opposition organizations were protesting the August 21 assassination attempt on opposition leader Sheikh Hasina, and calling for the ruling government to resign.

When journalists took photographs of the violence, members of the JCD turned on them, beating them, grabbing their cameras, and confiscating their film, according to the English-language newspaper The Daily Star.

Journalists injured in the melee included Sahabul Huq Sabu, a reporter with the Bangla-language daily Ittefaq; Mokarram Hossain Shubho, university correspondent for the Bangla-language daily Prothom Alo; photographer Zia Islam, of Prothom Alo; and photographer Amran Hossain, of The Daily Star. Four others, including photographers for the English-language daily New Age and the Bangla-language daily Bhorer Kagoj, were also attacked but not fully identified in press accounts.

JCD members also attacked the offices of Dhaka University’s journalism department, beating down the door of the chairman, Golam Rahman, and ransacking the office of senior professor Arefin Siddique, according to the United News of Bangladesh (UNB), the national news wire service.

Opposition representatives accused the police of standing by while the JCD attacked the students and journalists, doing nothing to defend them.

Campus groups, including the Dhaka University Journalists Association, condemned the violence, and called for the arrest and expulsion of JCD members responsible for the attacks.

The president of the JCD, Shahabuddin Laltu, denied responsibility for the assaults, claiming that those responsible for the violence against the journalists were “outsiders,” according to the UNB.

Clashes between rival political activist groups frequently break out on the Dhaka University campus. Tensions have heightened in recent days in the wake of the grenade attack on Awami League head Sheikh Hasina as she was leaving a rally in protest of another bomb attack in August.

“We are outraged by the cycle of political violence that continues to target our journalist colleagues in Bangladesh, who are continually at risk of physical attack for doing their jobs,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Authorities must find those responsible for these acts and bring them to justice.”

After an official visit to Bangladesh in March, CPJ reported on a similar outburst of violence on the Dhaka University campus. To read an analysis of politically motivated attacks on the Bangladeshi press, read “Suffering to Tell the Truth: Inside Bangladesh’s Culture of Violence” (in PDF).