Islamic militants threaten Bangladeshi journalists

New York, September 8, 2005— Islamic militants have threatened to kill nine journalists in southern Bangladesh unless they stop reporting on the activities of three groups calling for the establishment of an Islamic state through “armed revolution.”

Pieces of white cloth symbolizing a funeral shroud were mailed to the journalists in the city of Satkhira on September 4 along with letters signed by the outlawed Islamic militant group Bangla Bhai, the radical movement Ahle Hadith, and the Islamic political party Jamaat-i-Islami, a partner of the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in parliament. Local press reports said the letter warned the journalists not to write about the militants’ activities and threatened to kill Hindus reporting on Islamic groups. The BNP has not commented publicly on the involvement of its coalition partner, Jamaat-i-Islami.

“We urge the authorities to take these threats seriously and to bring those responsible for them to justice,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We are alarmed by this growing pattern of intimidation of journalists by Islamic groups in Bangladesh,” she added.

Bangla Bhai and Ahle Hadith are accused by authorities of masterminding a wave of more than 400 simultaneous bombings across the country on August 17. The explosions were small and caused few injuries but the scale of the planning and coordination behind the blasts dealt a major psychological blow to the country, journalists told CPJ. The bombers targeted government offices, airports, universities and at least seven press clubs.

The journalists who received the death threats in Sathkira are Abu Ahmed of The Daily Star, Kalyan Banerjee of Prothom Alo, Ramkrishna Chakraborty of Samakal, Mizanur Rahman of Janakantha, Subas Chowdhury of Jugantor, Yarab Hossain of Runner, Kali Das Karmakar of Janata, Abul Kalam Azad of Patradut, and Raghunath Kha of Janmabhumi.

Leaflets distributed to coincide with the August 17 explosions called the bombs a warning from the banned Islamic militant group Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) to Western leaders to leave Islamic countries. The leaflets also called for the establishment of Islamic sharia law.

Despite long standing denials from government officials, Islamic militant activity in Bangladesh is on the rise, and journalists reporting on the trend are increasingly at risk. The government has previously accused journalists of inventing stories about militant groups, but newspapers investigations over the last two years have uncovered connections between outlawed groups and al-Qaeda, according to The Daily Star.