As election approaches, press attacks draw concern

December 15, 2006

Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed
President, People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Chief Advisor to the Government of Bangladesh
Bangabhaban, Dhaka, Bangladesh

Via facsimile: 88-2-9566242

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about threats and attacks against journalists in the run-up to general elections scheduled for January 23, 2007. We urge you to do everything in your power as leader of the interim government to ensure that assaults on the press are adequately investigated and punished, and that journalists are free to report on the election campaign without fear of retribution.

Journalists in Bangladesh tell CPJ that attacks have been on the rise since the interim government took power in late October. Recent incidents include the severe beating of veteran reporter Hasibur Rahman Bilu on November 22. Unidentified men attacked Bilu, a reporter for the English-language Daily Star, while he was on his way to his office in Bogra, northern Bangladesh. He was treated for injuries to his legs and hand, and still suffers pain from the attack, he told CPJ this week.

Bilu, who has written about corruption among Bangladesh National Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami members in Bogra, believes he was attacked in retribution for his reporting. No arrests have been made in the case; Bilu has continued working despite the attack.

In the southwestern city of Satkhira, journalists have demanded action against former BNP legislator Habibul Islam Habib for alleged death threats on November 23 against Prothom Alo reporter Kalyan Banerjee, according to news reports. The journalist filed a police complaint saying that Habib had threatened to kill him in connection with his reporting.

Two other reporters in Satkhira–Subhas Chowdhury of Jugantar and Janmabhumi reporter Mozaffar Rahman–also received death threats on November 24 and 25 for their reporting on crime, according to The Daily Star.

In addition to addressing these new threats, the government should work to address previously unresolved cases in order to prevent further attacks. In Dhaka, there has been no resolution in the October beating of editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who was attacked on the premises of the English-language Weekly Blitz. Instead, the journalist himself is scheduled to be tried in January on charges of sedition related to his attempt to travel to Israel and his writing about the rise of Islamist militancy in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s vibrant press corps has been a constant target of violence in recent years, and most of these attacks have gone unpunished. Ten journalists have been killed for their work since 2000 with near total impunity. A pattern has emerged of suspects being detained and released, trials postponed, and justice delayed. No convictions have been made in the killings of Mir Ilias Hossain, Shamsur Rahman, Nahar Ali, Harunur Rashid, Shukur Hossain, Manik Saha, Humayun Kabir, Sheikh Belaluddin or Gautam Das–all journalists murdered in the last six years.

This record of impunity has made Bangladesh one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. During the turmoil of this pre-election season, a free press is crucial to the strength of the democratic process. But the press cannot be free without an assurance of safety. Given your unique and critical responsibilities in ensuring free and democratic elections, we urge you as interim chief of government to safeguard the rights of journalists by taking threats to their safety seriously and by punishing their assailants.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.

Joel Simon
Executive Director