Journalists threatened by Islamic militants

New York, December 8, 2005 —
The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by death threats from a banned Islamic group against journalists in four towns and cities in Bangladesh. Local media and CPJ sources said Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), which is suspected of having killed up to 20 people in bombings in the last nine days, has threatened journalists in Chittagong, Faridpur, Barisal and Gaibandha. It has also threatened the lives of officials, police officers, and teachers.

“These threats are clearly intended to inhibit critical coverage of Islamic militants,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “During this crisis, we urge authorities to take these warnings seriously and to safeguard journalists and others whose lives are in danger.”

In a hand-written letter delivered to the Chittagong Press Club on December 6 the JMB threatened to kill 22 journalists whom they called “betrayers,” and to blow up the press club in the southern port city. Journalists Sumi Khan, Samaresh Baidya, Abul Momen, Farok Iqbal, Biswajeet Chowdhury, and Anjan Kumer Sen were among those named in the letter, according to the Dhaka-based group Media Watch. The press club has filed a police complaint. It recently made plans to install security cameras and a metal detector at the club entrance.

Baidya, a senior reporter with the Bhorer Kagoj daily, told CPJ that he believed he was on the list of 22 because of his reporting on Islamic militant groups. The death threat was the second he had received this year. Police took six months to respond to his complaint in March about a threat from a student group, Baidya said.

He said he was still reporting but had limited his movements because of the threats. “I know they can do anything any time,” he said.

On December 4, the press club in Faridpur, a town west of the capital Dhaka, received a letter claiming to be from JMB and threatening to kill journalists who oppose jihad (holy struggle). The office of the daily Ajker Barta in the southern town of Barisal received a letter from JMB threatening to kill 12 people, including journalists, by December 14, according to The Daily Star. In the northeastern town of Gaibandha, a letter claiming to be from JMB threatened to kill six local journalists reporting for national publications if they continued to write against the group.

The threats have sparked widespread fear among journalists covering recent bombings and writing about JMB, local sources told CPJ.

Authorities have blamed JMB for a series of suicide bombings, the first ever in Bangladesh, which began with twin bombings in Gazipur and Chittagong on November 29 that killed 11. Two days later, another bomb near the courthouse in Gazipur killed at least one person and injured two journalists. A suicide bombing targeting a cultural organization in the northern town of Netrakona today killed seven people and wounded more than 50, Reuters reported.