Attacks against journalists reported in Bangladesh protests

News accounts reported that several journalists were injured in February 2013 protests that swept the country following a prison term handed to a senior leader of an Islamist opposition party.

Authorities sentenced Abdul Quader Molla, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, to life in prison on February 5, 2013, for his role in the mass killings during the 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, according to news reports. The sentencing occurred amid an ongoing war crimes tribunal set up to investigate genocide and crimes against humanity, which critics said was being used to target opponents of the ruling party.

Thousands of protesters across the country demonstrated against Molla’s prison sentence and called for the death penalty instead. Islamist parties also held rallies throughout the country, calling for strikes and demanding the release of their leaders who face trial.

Amid these massive demonstrations, at least one blogger was reported killed, and several journalists reported being attacked. CPJ is investigating to determine if the journalists were killed in connection with their coverage of the protests.

Ahmed Rajib Haider, who wrote blogs under the name of Thaba Baba, was attacked by assailants wielding machetes on February 15, 2013, in Dhaka, the day after he had participated in the protests, according to news reports. Haider had covered and publicized the protests in his blog posts and had also often criticized Bangladesh’s Islamist groups.

Sumon Mahbub, a journalist with the online news site bdnews24, said he had been hit by a car on February 20, 2013, two days after the outlet published a poll showing support for banning an Islamist group. The outlet also reported that its Dhaka offices had received threats after the poll was published.

No one was arrested or claimed responsibility for either attack, news reports said.

News accounts reported that at least 18 other journalists were attacked in protests by supporters of Islamist parties, 10 of them in Dhaka. The reports said the journalists in Dhaka were taken to a hospital. The reports did not offer further details, including the identities of the journalists or whether they were attacked for their coverage of or participation in the protests.