Hossain Baksh, a camera operator for ATN News in Bangladesh, was covering a local election when he was abducted and severely beaten on the alleged order of a political candidate. (Hossain Baksh)

Bangladeshi camera operator Hossain Baksh abducted, severely beaten while covering local elections

Washington, D.C., January 13, 2022 – Bangladesh authorities must conduct a swift and impartial investigation into the abduction and beating of Hossain Baksh and take steps to protect the safety of journalists covering union council elections, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

At approximately 6:45 a.m. on January 5, Hossain Baksh, a camera operator for the privately owned news channel ATN News, was abducted and severely beaten, allegedly upon the order of Asad Ali, the then-ruling Awami League-nominated chairperson candidate for a local union council election, in the Madhabpur upazila, or sub-district, of the Kamalganj upazila in the northeastern Sylhet Division, according to the Dhaka Tribune and Baksh, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. (A union council is a local government unit in Bangladesh.) Ali did not respond to CPJ’s text message requesting comment.

Ali was subsequently elected chairperson of the Madhabpur upazila in the election held on January 5, according to Daily Jugantor. The next phase of local union council elections across the country will be held on January 31, and the final phase will be held on February 7, according to news reports.

“The abduction and beating of Hossain Baksh demonstrate the significant dangers that Bangladeshi journalists can face while covering elections,” said Steven Butler, CPJ Asia’s program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “Authorities must conduct an immediate and impartial investigation into the incident, hold the perpetrators accountable, and ensure that journalists can safely and freely report during the upcoming phases of the local union council elections.”

Baksh, who received a pass from the Election Commission to report on the polls, was filming an armed procession led by Ali that was allegedly threatening voters next to a primary school in Madhabpur, when the then-candidate ordered six or seven men to attack Baksh with machetes, sticks, and knives, abduct him, and take him to Ali’s house so “he would be scared of them in the future,” Baksh said, adding that men also stole his camera, smartphones, cash, credit cards, motorcycle key, and national identity card at that time, which they have yet to return.

Baksh told CPJ that the men forced him into a black car and took him to Ali’s house in the Madhabpur upazila. Once at Ali’s house, a group of men, including the then-candidate’s son and nephews, repeatedly and severely beat him with ropes and held him for approximately one and a half hours until around 8:00 a.m., when the Kamalganj police, which were informed by bystanders of Baksh’s abduction, retrieved him, according to Baksh.

Baksh sustained wounds to his head, face, eyes, and legs, and received first aid treatment at the Kamalganj Upazila Health Complex, where he vomited repeatedly and was referred to the Moulvibazar Sadar Hospital for further treatment, according to the Dhaka Tribune and Baksh, who said that he will require further medical treatment for injuries to his eyes.

Baksh told CPJ that he filed a complaint against the perpetrators at the Kamalganj police station today, but an investigating officer did not register a first information report, the first step of a police investigation, against the perpetrators, saying that further investigation would be necessary due to the association of the accused with the Awami League. Baksh added that the officer-in-charge of the station said that he would follow up with Baksh later.

The officer-in-charge of the Kamalganj police station did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.

Mohammad Zakaria, superintendent of the Moulvibazar district police, which encompasses the  Madhabpur and Kamalganj upazilas, responded to CPJ’s request for comment via messaging app with a police document recording the incident, which said that Baksh is a supporter of the oppositional Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and was traveling to campaign for an independent candidate running in the Madhabpur union council election when Ali’s supporters stopped his car and slapped him before a police officer rescued him from the area and took him to the Kamalganj Upazila Health Complex for treatment.

Baksh and another local reporter with ATN News, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal, denied the police’s claim, saying that Baksh was on assignment for ATN News at the time of the attack. The area of the assault identified in the police document is the same as where Ali’s house is located, according to a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.

Munni Saha, news head of ATN News, did not immediately respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.