Bangladesh:Party activists attack journalists and printing press

New York, May 31, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is appalled by attacks on journalists and a newspaper in the town of Kushtia in western Bangladesh. Witnesses told local media that about 20 men, whom they recognized as activists from the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP), attacked the offices of Quality Press on Wednesday, damaging a printing press, threatening employees and seizing documents. The editors of the daily Dainik Andolaner Bazar, which was being printed when the office was attacked, suspended publication fearing threats to staff safety, according to sources in the country. It was the second attack on the press in Kushtia in two days.

“The national government is failing in its responsibility to protect journalists in Kushtia,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We join with our colleagues in Bangladesh in demanding immediate action against those responsible for these flagrant attacks.”

Local media said the assailants were supporters of BNP Member of Parliament Shahidul Islam. Dainik Andolaner Bazar editor Anisuzzaman, who fled the city for the capital Dhaka, told reporters that Islam had threatened to shut down the newspaper earlier in the week.

Dainik Andolaner Bazar with its baseless reports was sullying my image,” Islam told the Dhaka-based Daily Star on Wednesday. He denied involvement in the attack and alleged they were carried out by his political opponents in order to discredit him.

On Tuesday, a large group of men attacked a protest by journalists outside Kushtia library with rocks, sticks, chairs, and bricks. Up to 25 journalists were injured and required medical treatment. They included Dhaka-based Bangladesh Observer editor Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, and Daily Kushtia editor Mizanur Rahman Bheza. They were protesting alleged threats by the lawmaker against journalists in the town.

Local journalists said their attackers emerged from a nearby BNP office, and that they recognized some of them as ruling party activists, according to local sources. No arrests have been reported.

“I was hit in the head with a stone,” Chowdhury told CPJ. “The police played silent spectator. After [the attackers] foiled our protest rally, they left.” Local police told Associated Press that they acted quickly to protect the journalists, and were investigating the attack.

The legislator filed extortion cases on May 9 against three Kushtia-based journalists, accusing them of demanding protection money from him, AP reported. The journalists deny the allegations, and say that the charges were issued in reprisal for their critical reporting. The three journalists, Hasan Jahid, Munshi Tariqul Islam and Al Mamun Sagar, have fled to Dhaka.