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ASK: Mounting attacks maintain threat to Bangladesh’s press freedom

  • Published at 03:21 pm January 10th, 2019
Doctors and nurses are seen treating injured Associated Press photojournalist AM Ahad at Labaid Hospital's emergency room in Dhaka after he was attacked allegedly by ruling party cadres on Sunday; August 5, 2018 <b>Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune</b>
Doctors and nurses are seen treating injured Associated Press photojournalist AM Ahad at Labaid Hospital's emergency room in Dhaka after he was attacked allegedly by ruling party cadres on Sunday; August 5, 2018 Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Three journalists have been killed in the last year

The freedom of the press remains imperilled as violence against journalists continue to spike in the country, according to rights group Ain O Shalish Kendro (ASK).

An ASK report revealed on Thursday that over the past three years, journalists have been increasingly harassed. Over 405 members of the press have been assaulted by various groups and political parties. 

In 2018, as many as 207 journalists have been harassed, a steep climb from 122 in 2017 and 117 in 2016.

At least 61 journalists were assaulted by members of the ruling party or its wing organizations. Meanwhile, 42 journalists were victims of bomb attacks.

Another 18 journalists were harassed by law enforcement agencies, with 11 other receiving threats from ruling purported ruling party members, government officials, and anonymous callers. 

Moreover, publication of 15 news reports led to lawsuits being filed. In addition, nine journalists were assaulted by government officials. Three journalists were killed and at least one went missing. 

Significant attacks on journalists

The road safety movement in August 2018 had became a dangerous beat to cover for journalists. While covering the developments, at least 23 journalists were assaulted, some brutally beaten up and their equipment vandalized by "unidentified" attackers in the capital. 

Notable injuries were Associated Press photojournalist AM Ahad and freelance photographer Rahat Karim at the Science Laboratory intersection on August 4 in Dhaka.

On August 5, Shahidul Alam, a photography pioneer in Bangladesh, was arrested for making "provocative" comments in an Al Jazeera interview about the road safety movement. 

The arrest came hours after Shahidul posted a video on Facebook about ongoing student protests in Bangladesh. A day later, he was charged under Section 57 of the ICT Act, a notorious law against electronic communications that "tend to deprave or corrupt" the image of the state.

Around the same time, dozens of journalists, especially women, reported harassment and attacks throughout the city. 

On December 24, during the national election campaigns, about twelve journalists from the Daily Jugantor and Jamuna Television were attacked at in Nawabganj in Dhaka. 

What is prompting violence against the press?

Senior journalist and political commentator Afsan Chowdhury said as the political arena has turned more and more violent, attacks on journalists are becoming more and more frequent.

He said: “In order to ward off the threat, reporters will have to file news that does not create any controversy."  

National Press Club president Saiful Alam said: "Journalism is a risky profession. The government and the state are responsible for ensuring the safety of journalists. Law enforcement agencies should be more aware of this." 

He hoped the hostility towards journalists from during the road safety movement will not repeat, as the government has ensured him of providing safety to journalists.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque said, "Violence on journalists is never expected in any way. And journalists are responsible for maintaining the objectivity in their work and should not do anything that tarnishes the state's image.”