Sheikh Hasina speaks to foreign observers and journalists at her Dhaka residence on January 8, 2024, after her reelection as prime minister of Bangladesh. At least 18 journalists were assaulted or harassed while covering the January 7 vote. (Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain)

At least 18 Bangladeshi journalists attacked, harassed during election coverage

On Sunday, January 7, 2024, at least 18 journalists were assaulted or harassed while covering alleged election irregularities and violence as Bangladeshis headed to the polls, according to multiple news reports and reporters who spoke to CPJ. 

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the ruling Awami League party returned to power for her fifth term amid an opposition boycott and low voter turnout. The U.S. State Department said the elections were “not free or fair.”

Mujib Mashal, South Asia bureau chief for The New York Times, told CPJ that the newspaper was denied prior approval by the Bangladesh government to report on the polls.

Separately, on Saturday, January 6, the day before the election, the Daily Manab Zamin newspaper’s website was blocked in Bangladesh following its critical reporting on the government, according to Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, the outlet’s editor-in-chief.

Chowdhury said the outlet did not receive a government notice detailing why the website was blocked, and access was restored on Monday, January 8.

At around 1 p.m. on election day, around 15 to 20 men wearing Awami League badges attacked seven journalists– MA Rahim, a correspondent for the broadcaster Ananda TV, Rimon Hossain, a camera operator with Ananda TV; Masud Rana, a correspondent with the online news portal enews71; Sumon Khan, a correspondent with the broadcaster Mohona TV; Elias Bosunia, a correspondent with the broadcaster Bangla TV; Minaj Islam, a correspondent with the newspaper Daily Vorer Chetona; and Hazrat Ali, a correspondent with the newspaper Dainik Dabanol, during their coverage of an assault on independent candidate Ataur Rahman outside a polling station in northern Lalmonirhat district, according to Rahim and Rana.

The men beat several of the journalists with iron rods and bamboo sticks, beat and pushed others, and broke and confiscated multiple pieces of equipment including cameras and microphones—according to those sources and a complaint filed at the Hatibandha Police Station by Rana, which alleged the perpetrators were led by brothers Md. Zahidul Islam and Md. Mostafa, nephews of the incumbent parliamentarian contested by Rahman.

Md. Zahidul Islam told CPJ that he denied involvement in the attack. Islam did not respond to CPJ’s follow-up question about Mostafa’s alleged involvement in the attack.

Saiful Islam, officer-in-charge of the Hatibandha Police Station, did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

Separately, at around 2:40 p.m., around 25 men surrounded Sirajul Islam Rubel, a correspondent for The Daily Star newspaper, and Arafat Rahaman, a reporter for The Daily Star, as they tried to leave a polling station in the capital Dhaka after covering an alleged ballot stuffing attempt by Awami League supporters, Rubel told CPJ.

The men grabbed the journalists’ phones, deleted their video footage and photos of the incident, and blocked their exit from the center along with Daily Star reporter Dipan Nandy, who subsequently joined Rubel and Rahaman to report from the station. The trio managed to leave with the assistance of police at around 3:05 p.m., Rubel said.

Separately, at around 2:45 p.m., around 20 to 25 men beat Mosharrof Shah, a correspondent for the daily newspaper Prothom Alo, after he photographed and filmed alleged ballot stuffing by Awami League supporters at a polling station in southeast Chittagong city, the journalist told CPJ.

Shah said that while speaking to an electoral officer about the incident, the men approached the journalist, took his notebook where he wrote what he observed, and deleted footage from his mobile phone in the presence of police. The men repeatedly slapped and punched Shah before he managed to flee the scene after around 30 minutes, the journalist told CPJ, adding that he received his phone back around one hour later with the assistance of his journalist colleagues.

Shah identified one of the perpetrators as Nurul Absar, general secretary of a local unit of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the Awami League. Absar did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

Previously, on September 24, alleged members of the Chhatra League attacked Shah on the University of Chittagong campus.

Separately, at around 4 p.m., a group of 20 to 30 men surrounded and assaulted Saif Bin Ayub, a sub-editor for the Daily Kalbela newspaper, and took his laptop, phone, other personal items while he was photographing alleged ballot stuffing by Awami League supporters inside a polling center in Dhaka, the journalist told CPJ.

The men pushed Bin Ayub against a wall and punched him, kicked him in the abdomen, and scratched him while forcibly removing his press identification card from around his neck. The perpetrators then dragged him out of the building as he requested help from police present at the scene, the journalist said. 

Officers did not intervene and the beating continued outside for around 15 minutes, the journalist said, adding that he received his phone and broken laptop back later that day but not his wallet, wristwatch and other items.

Separately, at around 4:30 p.m., around eight to 10 men—including electoral officials and teenagers wearing Awami League badges—pushed Sam Jahan, a Reuters video journalist, out of a vote counting room in a polling station in Dhaka. Two of the teenagers then chased Jahan out of the station, he told CPJ.

Separately, Awami League supporters surrounded and obstructed the work of four journalists with the New Age newspaper—correspondent Muktadir Rashid, photojournalist Sourav Laskar, and reporters Nasir Uz Zaman and Tanzil Rahaman—during their coverage of polling stations in Dhaka, Rashid told CPJ.

Separately, unidentified perpetrators threw bricks from behind at Mohiuddin Modhu, a news presenter and correspondent for the broadcaster Jamuna Television, after the journalist tried to speak to a young teenager who attempted to cast a ballot in the Nawabganj sub-district of Dhaka district.

Biplab Barua, Awami League office secretary and special aide to Prime Minister Hasina, told CPJ that law enforcement took swift action regarding all attacks on journalists on election day. Barua added that the government is committed to launching investigations into all such incidents and bringing the perpetrators to justice.