New York, February 4, 2020—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that several journalists were attacked, threatened, or had equipment taken while covering elections in Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital, on February 1.
At least 15 journalists were beaten, threatened, denied access to polling stations, or had equipment broken or taken while covering the mayoral and ward councilor vote, according to reports. Separately, over 30 complaints of election irregularities, including voters being denied entry to polling stations or people standing outside centers with firearms, were reported to the Election Commission on February 1, according to the Daily Star.
The Dhaka police did not immediately respond to CPJ’s email requesting comment on the attacks on the press.
“Journalists provide an essential function in reporting on and documenting whether elections are free and fair, and they must be able to do their jobs safely,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Bangladeshi authorities must immediately investigate and bring to account all the perpetrators of violence against journalists who were covering the Dhaka elections.”
On February 1, a group of people attacked Mostafizur Rahman Sumon, a crime reporter for the online news portal Agami, while he was photographing supporters of the governing Awami League in Dhaka’s Rayerbazar neighborhood, according to news reports. The attackers were armed with sharp weapons, according to the reports, which did not provide further detail. Sumon told the online news portal New Age that he believed the attackers were supporters of M.D. Hossain Khokon, a candidate for the Awami League. Sumon was taken to Dhaka Medical College Hospital and received six stitches to his head, according to news reports.
Khokon denied that his supporters attacked the journalist, and suggested that other people wearing a badge that showed his election symbol carried out the attack, according to bdnews24.
The Awami League did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent via social media.
CPJ was unable to locate contact information for Khokon.
Also on February 1, Sheikh Hasan, chief photographer for the Bangla daily Kaler Kantha, was attacked and his memory card was taken, according to news reports that cited S.M. Azad, the paper’s chief crime reporter. Azad said that the attackers appeared to be supporters of the Awami League. The reports did not provide further details about the attack.
The same day, Zisad Ikbal, a correspondent of the Press Bangla Agency, was beaten while trying to report on the election, Ibrahim Sarker, a reporter for the agency, told New Age. Sarkar, who described the attackers as “Awami League activists” told New Age that the journalist was attacked as he entered a voting center. Daily Star reporter Foisal Ahmed told New Age that people, whom he described as Awami League supporters, took his phone while he was filming alleged election irregularities.
Mahabub Momtaji, a staff reporter at the Bangla newspaper Bangladesh Pratidin, and Nurul Amin, a reporter for the newspaper The Business Standard, had their phones taken and material deleted at a polling station by people whom the Daily Star described as supporters of Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student arm of the Awami League. The newspaper reported that Shahidul Islam Khan Riyad, vice president of the Dhaka South Chhatra League, held the journalists for over an hour and a half at the polling center on February 1. The journalists filed a report with the police and Riyad was suspended for breaching organizational discipline, according to news reports. The reports of the incident did not specify why the journalists were held.
The Bangladesh Chhatra League did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email. CPJ was unable to locate contact information for Riyad.
Hasnayan Tanvir, a reporter for Maasranga Television, and Saiful Islam, a camera operator for Maasranga Television, said their vehicle and camera were vandalized and they were attacked on February 3 in Dhaka suburb Badda’s Beraid area by people who identified themselves as supporters of councilor-elect Aiub Ansar Mintu, according to Dhaka Tribune. The journalists were harassed while reporting on vandalization after the election, the report said, without providing further details. Police are investigating, according to Dhaka Tribune.
Mintu told the Dhaka Tribune that neither he nor his supporters were involved in the incident and that the perpetrators used the name of the Awami League. CPJ was unable to locate contact information for Mintu.
The Daily Star reported that on the election day, presiding officers barred three of its reporters from entering polling stations in Uttar Badda and Mirpur; a person whom the paper described as an Awami League supporter threatened a Daily Star photographer, barred him from taking photos, and asked him to leave the Sir Salimullah Medical College polling center; and that a police inspector barred two reporters and a photographer from entering a polling center. CPJ could not independently verify these incidents.
CPJ previously documented how a journalist was arrested and several others were attacked and denied entry to polling centers during general elections in Bangladesh in December.