A man walks past policemen in riot gear ahead of elections in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 5, 2024.
A man walks past policemen in riot gear ahead of elections in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on January 5, 2024. The country goes to the polls on January 7. (Photo: Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

CPJ urges Bangladesh authorities, political parties to ensure media freedom ahead of election

New York, January 5, 2024 —The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Bangladesh authorities and all political parties to respect the right of journalists to report freely and safely ahead of Sunday’s upcoming national election.

CPJ has documented a number of attacks on journalists in the run-up to the January 7 polls, and on Thursday joined its partners in the #KeepItOn coalition in calling on authorities to ensure unfettered access to the internet throughout the election.

Separately, CPJ is investigating reports that foreign journalists were denied access to Bangladesh to cover the polls.

“Bangladesh authorities must conduct swift and impartial investigations into all recent attacks on journalists in the lead-up to the national election and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, on Friday. “Our access to information depends on the ability of journalists to cover the polls independently and without fear of reprisal at this critical juncture.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who has been in power since 2009, is Bangladesh’s longest-serving leader and is seeking a fourth term in the polls. The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has announced a boycott of the vote and the government has deployed troops nationwide, amid fears of violence. At least 27 journalists covering political rallies in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, in October were attacked by supporters of the BNP and the ruling Awami League and police.

On December 10, Amir Hamja and Niranjan Goswami, district correspondents for the privately owned broadcasters Desh TV and mytv, respectively, were covering an opposition protest in the Shaistanagar sub-district of northeast Habiganj district when they were hit by metal splinter bullets fired by police to disperse protesters, according to news reports and the journalists, who spoke with CPJ by phone.

Goswami said he was hit by around 30 splinters and was having trouble with his vision after a doctor determined it was too risky to remove one from his right eye. Hamja said he would undergo surgery to remove a splinter from his left eyebrow.

Separately, on November 30, Awami League parliamentary candidate Mostafizur Rahman and around 15 to 20 of his supporters assaulted Rakib Uddin, a correspondent with the privately-owned broadcaster Independent Television in the southeastern city of Chittagong, according to news reports and the journalist, who spoke with CPJ by phone.

Uddin told CPJ that Rahman punched him in the face and, with his supporters, kicked him, after the journalist questioned him about a potential violation of Bangladesh’s electoral code of conduct at a local government office. He said unidentified men that he believed to be Rahman’s supporters had followed him since the attack.

CPJ’s text messages to Rahman, Habiganj Police Superintendent Md Akhter Hossain, and Krishna Pada Roy, commissioner of the Chittagong Metropolitan Police, did not receive any replies.

Editor’s note: The sixth paragraph has been updated to reflect the correct location of the opposition protest.