New York, March 29, 2023 – Bangladeshi authorities must conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the police attacks on at least nine journalists covering recent elections held by the Supreme Court Bar Association and hold the perpetrators accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
On March 15, police assaulted at least nine journalists on the court’s premises in the capital city of Dhaka after clashes broke out between lawyers supporting the ruling Awami League party and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, and police charged into the crowd swinging their batons, according to multiple news reports and five of those journalists, who spoke with CPJ.
The deputy commissioner of the Dhaka police’s Ramna division told news website Bdnews24.com later on March 15 that “journalists got caught up in the turmoil” when officers attempted to break up the unrest, and police were investigating the attacks.
On March 16, Dhaka police officials expressed regret over the incident in a meeting with local journalists but, as of March 29, have not held any of the officers involved in the attacks to account, the journalists told CPJ.
“The recent apology by the Dhaka police over officers’ attacks on at least nine Bangladeshi journalists is a welcome but insufficient response,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “Bangladeshi authorities must hold the officers who attacked journalists to account, return any equipment confiscated from reporters, and ensure that police are thoroughly trained so they can help, rather than imperil, members of the press covering newsworthy events.”
Two officers with the police Public Order Management Division slapped Zabed Akhter, a senior reporter for the privately owned broadcaster ATN News, shoved him to the ground, and kicked him as he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist and told them he suffered from a nerve condition, Akhter told CPJ by phone.
Police also pushed Jannatul Ferdous Tanvi, a senior reporter for the privately owned broadcaster Independent Television, as she tried to help him, Akhter said.
Later that day, Akhter received medical treatment for internal injuries to his waist and back at a hospital, where the two officers apologized to the journalist, Akhter said, adding that those officers had not been held to account for the incident as of March 29.
A group of 10 to 15 officers kicked and used a bamboo stick to beat Md. Humaun Kabir, a senior camera operator for the privately owned broadcaster ATN Bangla who was filming the unrest, knocking him to the ground, Kabir told CPJ by phone. Officers continued to slap him as he ran away, according to a video of the incident reviewed by CPJ. Kabir sustained a head injury for which he took painkillers.
Five or six officers beat Maruf Hasan, a reporter for the privately owned newspaper Manab Zamin, in the head and back while he identified himself as a journalist, he told CPJ via messaging app. Officers also insulted him with vulgar language and confiscated his microphone, which they had not returned as of March 29, Hasan said.
He told CPJ that he sustained painful injuries to the areas that were beaten.
About five police officers also beat Mohammad Fazlul Haque, a senior reporter for the privately owned news website Jago News, according to Haque, who told CPJ via messaging app that he had been beaten but then did not respond to additional questions seeking details.
According to those news reports and the journalists who spoke with CPJ, police also attacked Nur Mohammad, a reporter for the privately owned newspaper Ajker Patrika; Ibrahim Hossain, a camera operator for the privately owned broadcaster Boishakhi Television; Kabir Hossain, a reporter for the privately owned newspaper Kalbela; and Mehedi Hassan Dalim, a reporter for the privately owned news website The Dhaka Post.
CPJ contacted those journalists via messaging app seeking additional details but did not receive any replies.
Suvra Kanti Das, a senior photojournalist for the privately owned newspaper Prothom Alo, told CPJ by phone that he was also covering the elections when an officer grabbed him by the shirt, demanded to see his media identification card, insulted him with vulgar language, and ordered him to leave the premises, which he did.
CPJ’s calls and messages to Roy Niyati, a spokesperson for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, did not receive any replies.