CPJ alarmed by censorship during Bangladesh political crisis

New York, January 11, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by orders from the Bangladeshi Information Ministry that private broadcast outlets suspend news programs and print outlets halt critical news coverage during a state of emergency announced this evening.

“It’s essential that at this very sensitive moment Bangladeshi citizens have unfettered access to information,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to withdraw their restrictions on the media, to respect the right of journalists to report fully and freely, and to ensure citizens’ rights to independent information.”

Bangladeshi President Iajuddin Ahmed today resigned from his role as chief advisor to the caretaker government after declaring a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew. The move followed weeks of violence as rival political parties failed to reach a compromise over plans to hold an election later this month. Earlier today, U.N. and European Union officials announced that they were withdrawing support of the elections and were pulling their observers from the country.

Bangladeshi television stations suspended all private news broadcasts and talk shows on orders from the official Press Information Department, journalists told CPJ. “The restriction will be effective until further order from the ministry,” Khairul Alam Mukul, news editor for the privately owned Bengali-language satellite station NTV, told The Associated Press.

Officials also warned print news outlets not to publish critical coverage, journalists said. “We were verbally told of some restrictions, but there has been nothing written,” Mahfuz Anam, Dhaka-based Daily Star editor and Prothom Alo publisher, told CPJ. “We are waiting for further information.”

The military has been deployed to enforce the curfew during the emergency, although the government said credentialed members of the press would be allowed to move freely. Still, several journalists told CPJ that their land telephone lines had been disconnected.

Today’s developments followed a series of threats against reporters in districts outside of the capital, Dhaka, local media reported. Six journalists in Rupgonj received a package from the banned Islamist militant group Jamaatul Mujahedeen Bangladesh (JMB) with funeral shrouds and a letter threatening them with death, according to the daily Amader Shomoy. The threat was apparently sparked by news reports that two JMB members had been arrested. And in southwestern Bangladesh, where eight journalists have been murdered since 2000, a group identifying itself as Purbo Bangla Mission Juddho threatened to bomb the press club in Rupsha, Khulna district, and kill correspondents for local and national dailies, according to the Daily Star.

“We are concerned about the mounting physical danger members of the press are facing during this crisis, and call on the government to do everything its power to ensure that journalists are not targets of violence,” Simon said.