New York, October 6, 2023—Bangladesh authorities must immediately and impartially investigate the attack on journalist Mosharrof Shah and hold the perpetrators accountable, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
At around 11:30 a.m. on September 24, around 15 to 20 men severely beat Shah, a correspondent for the privately owned daily newspaper Prothom Alo, on the University of Chittagong campus in southeast Bangladesh, according to a statement by Bangladeshi Journalists in International Media and the journalist.
In the days prior, Shah, a fourth-year undergraduate in communication and journalism, published a series of reports for Prothom Alo on a factional clash within the university chapter of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League party. Shah’s attackers repeatedly warned him not to write about the Bangladesh Chhatra League, which subsequently dissolved its University of Chittagong chapter escalating tensions on campus.
“The severe beating of Bangladeshi student journalist Mosharrof Shah, which appears to have been carried out by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, reflects a worryingly familiar pattern of violence. Police must swiftly hold the perpetrators of this attack to account and end the inaction on the Chhatra League’s attacks on the press,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Government and University of Chittagong authorities must ensure that Shah may safely return to campus and continue his reporting without fear of reprisal.”
CPJ has documented numerous unprosecuted attacks on journalists by those associated with the Chhatra League. Shah said he identified six of his attackers in his September 28 statement to the university but no one had been arrested or faced action by the university, leading him to fear returning to campus.
Shah said he was walking towards the vice-chancellor’s office for an interview on the clash when the men approached him from behind and demanded his mobile phone, which he refused to hand over. He did not answer when the men asked if he had written about the Chhatra League.
The perpetrators then punched the journalist in the forehead and face and pushed him to the ground, where they kicked his chest and hit him with sticks and cricket stumps while warning him to stop reporting on the Chhatra League, he said. The attack lasted for around 25 minutes, ending when a police intelligence officer stationed on campus intervened.
Shah told CPJ he was hospitalized and received five stitches to his forehead and painkillers for torn cartilage in his left ear, internal injuries, and severe bruising. He was discharged on October 1.
A university proctor informed Shah that the administration filed a complaint on September 26 at the Hathazari Police Station against unnamed people regarding the incident and three other attacks by the Chhatra League on campus but did not provide a copy upon request, the journalist told CPJ.
Chittagong Police Superintendent S.M. Shafiullah told CPJ that an investigation was underway, and a police officer had spoken with Shah about the incident. However, Shah said that police had not contacted him as of October 6.
In a September 28 statement to a university-appointed investigative committee, which CPJ reviewed, Shah claimed the perpetrators were followers of Rejaul Haque Rubel, a former University of Chittagong student and president of its Chhatra League chapter, and that an attacker spoke with Rubel by phone during the beating. In the statement, Shah named six men as his attackers and stated that he would be able to identify further suspects upon reviewing security footage. Shah said the university had not provided this as of October 6.
Rubel told CPJ by phone that he denied those allegations, which he called a “conspiracy.”