New York, August 6, 2018–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Bangladeshi authorities to immediately halt widespread attacks on journalists covering ongoing student protests in Dhaka and to release photographer Shahidul Alam from jail.
A Dhaka court ordered that Shahidul Alam be held for seven days pending investigation into police accusations that he violated Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act by spreading propaganda against the government and spreading false information on electronic media, according to news reports. A few hours before his arrest yesterday, Alam posted a video on the student protests on Facebook and appeared on Al-Jazeera, CPJ documented. When Alam appeared in court today, he was unable to walk without assistance and told his friends he had been beaten bloody, the Guardian reported.
Meanwhile, suspected supporters of the ruling Awami League party and police attacked more than a dozen journalists covering student protests in the past few days, according to news reports. Students have been protesting for safer roads in Bangladesh after two children were killed by a speeding bus on July 29.
“These widespread and intentional assaults on journalists covering protests in Dhaka amount to a severe indictment of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s press freedom credentials,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington D.C. “Authorities should immediately release Shahidul Alam without charge, as well as take swift steps to halt broader attacks on the press by holding the perpetrators accountable.”
A group of men armed with sticks beat Associated Press photojournalist AM Ahad as he was covering the protests in front of Dhaka City College, injuring his head and legs, according to the news agency and Dhaka Tribune. His camera was broken and he was taken to a hospital for treatment, according to Dhaka Tribune.
According to New Age Bangladesh and Dhaka Tribune, several other photojournalists were attacked and their cameras damaged on Sunday, including Palash Sikder of the news website Bonikbarata, Ibnul Asaf Jawed of Daily Janakantha, Abu Sufian Jewel of news website BD Morning, freelancer Rahat Karim, and Rimon with Zuma Press. According to Dhaka Tribune and The Daily Star, other journalists attacked include Channel I journalists Samia Rahman, Marzuk Hasan, Hasan Zubair, and N Kayer Hasin; Nagorik TV reporter Abdullah Shafi; online news portal Sara Bangla reporter Golam Samdani; Nagorik TV’s Kamrul Hassan; and Naya Diganta‘s Sharif Hossain. They were attacked in different parts of the city.
Ahmed Deepto, a reporter with Prothom Alo, and Sajid Hossain, a photographer with Prothom Alo, were also beaten, according to New Age and Dhaka Tribune. Deepto was taken to the hospital for treatment. Police with batons hit New Age journalist Mahtab Uddin Ahmad despite him showing his press identity card, the news organization reported.
The Daily Star reported that three of its journalists were attacked and another was molested yesterday. Shaer Reaz was photographing protests when a man and a police official beat him with a stick, kicked, and punched him, the paper reported. His phone was smashed and he was taken to Dhanmodi Police Station where he was beaten again, the paper reported. Reaz was detained for four hours until representatives of The Daily Star went and requested his release, according to the paper. Police officers told the paper that activists from the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), the student wing of the Awami League, handed Reaz over to them. Selim Sadman Somoy, a contributor to The Daily Star, was also detained at the police station and beaten up after taking pictures of the protest, the news organization said.
Sushmita S Preetha, editor of the newspaper’s Star Weekend magazine, said suspected BCL men molested her as she was filming a procession of them chanting. She said she was dragged to the side of the road and groped and that the men only let her go after she deleted the video she had taken, according to The Daily Star.
Rafiul Islam, also a journalist with The Daily Star, was hit in the head with a piece of wood despite showing his press identification after trying to take video of clashes between students and BCL activists, The Daily Star reported. Journalist Faisal Hossain and cameraperson Krishna Sarker of Channel 24 were beaten while doing a live broadcast, according to The Daily Star.
Prothom Alo reported that police and ruling party activists harassed and pushed around its staff correspondent Nasrin Aktar today and briefly took away her phone while she was reporting on protests.
CPJ’s calls and an email to the Dhaka Metropolitan Police Commissioner did not receive an immediate response. Golam Rabbani, the general secretary of the BCL, denied allegations that BCL activists were attacking journalists and students, The Daily Star reported.
CPJ has documented how the ICT Act has been used to target journalists. When CPJ met with Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu in December, he pledged to reform the ICT Act to prevent its misuse, but this has not happened. CPJ’s phone call and email to the Ministry of Information today went unanswered.
There were multiple reports that internet speeds were restricted in the country over the weekend. The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission denied that a directive had been issued to suspend broadband internet service, according to Dhaka Tribune.
CPJ has documented multiple attacks on journalists in recent weeks in Bangladesh.