New York, January 4, 2023—Bangladesh authorities must conduct a swift investigation into the abduction and assault of journalist Abu Azad and hold the perpetrators accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On December 25, in the Rangunia region of the southeastern Chittagong division, a group of six to seven men confronted Azad, a reporter covering the environment and politics for the privately owned newspaper The Business Standard, while he was photographing brick kilns that were allegedly operating illegally, according to multiple news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ by phone.
Azad identified himself as a journalist, and the men then forced him into a vehicle at gunpoint, and they threatened to kill him; they then beat him and brought him to a local government official’s office, where they assaulted him further and robbed him, he told CPJ, saying he was released after about 90 minutes.
Azad suffered a neck fracture and pain in his chest, abdomen, and hands, according to the journalist and medical documents that CPJ reviewed.
“The abduction and gruesome beating of Abu Azad demonstrate the grave dangers facing journalists who cover environmental issues in Bangladesh,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Authorities must swiftly and thoroughly investigate this incident and hold the perpetrators accountable. Bangladesh must put an end to its dreadful record of impunity involving attacks on journalists.”
Azad told CPJ that one of the attackers was Mohiuddin Talukder Mohan, a member of the Islampur Union Parishad government unit, and said he was brought to Mohan’s office, where three additional men joined the others. The men deactivated the office’s security cameras, beat him with their hands and pistols, kicked him repeatedly, and confiscated his mobile phone, wallet, and identification card, Azad told CPJ.
At the office, Mohan called Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, chair of the Islampur Union Parishad, who threatened the journalist, saying, “nothing will happen if a journalist like you was killed,” and then ordered the men to beat Azad further and destroy his phone, Azad told CPJ.
The men withdrew all the money from Azad’s mobile banking app, bKash, and stole 10,000 taka (US$97) in cash that he carried with him, the journalist told CPJ, adding that they demanded an additional 50,000 taka (US$486) as ransom, which he did not provide.
While releasing him, one of the men hit Azad on the neck with a steel rod, the journalist told CPJ. As of Wednesday, January 4, Azad had not received his phone, wallet, money, or identification card, he said.
CPJ contacted Mohan via messaging app for comment but did not receive any reply. CPJ texted Chowdhury for comment but did not receive any response.
On December 26, Azad filed a police complaint against 10 people, including Mohan and Chowdhury, for assault, extortion, kidnapping, and attempted murder, according to the journalist and The Business Standard.
Police arrested one suspect that day, identified as the manager of a brick kiln, who appeared in court on Wednesday, January 4, and was ordered to be transferred to jail, the journalist and The Business Standard said. On Tuesday, January 3, the Bangladesh High Court granted anticipatory bail to Mohan and Chowdhury, protecting them from arrest for four weeks, Azad said, adding that the other suspects have not been apprehended.
CPJ sent a request for comment via messaging app to Md Mahbub Milky, officer-in-charge at the Rangunia Model Police Station, where Azad filed his complaint, but did not receive any response.
Mohan and Chowdhury are both members of the ruling Awami League party and both have business and political interests in the kilns, Azad told CPJ.
CPJ emailed the Awami League for comment but did not receive any reply.