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How long till justice is served for attacks on journalists?

  • Published at 01:11 am August 11th, 2018
Photojournalist AM Ahad
AM Ahad, Associated Press photojournalist, receiving medical attention after being beaten up on Monday by unidentified men while covering students protest in Dhaka's Science Lab area Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

A number of journalist organizations have issued ultimatums to the government, demanding immediate arrest of the attackers and threatening tougher countrywide movement - their deadlines are ending today

Six days have gone by where at least 23 media workers were assaulted and their equipment vandalized by unidentified attackers while covering student protests in Dhaka’s Dhanmondi, but progress is yet to be made in identifying or arresting the attackers.

A number of journalist organizations have issued ultimatums to the government, demanding immediate arrest of the attackers and threatening tougher countrywide movement - their deadlines are ending today.

On August 7, leaders of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ), Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ), and the National Press Club gave the government a 72-hour ultimatum. 

They warned that a tough movement would be launched from today, if their demand is not met.

On August 9, Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU), another leading platform of journalists, expressed solidarity with the ultimatum, saying Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal cannot avoid responsibility for these assailants roaming free.

“If the administration can identify and contain militants in the country, why should it not be possible to arrest the attackers whose photos were published by various media outlets?” questioned the leaders. 

“The home minister cannot avoid responsibility for the attackers going free,” they said.

The government, however, has done nothing in response to this unprecedented attack on journalists. 

Reporters, photojournalists and camerapersons were beaten up by unidentified men armed with sharp weapons and rods, many wearing helmets. Videos and photographs of the attacks were published on various platforms, but arrests have yet to be made.

Senior journalist Afsan Chowdhury said that the government does not take journalism or media seriously, rather it focuses on the publishers or owners of the media outlets.

“My 45 years of experience can tell that nothing has been achieved because the unions are weak, and come from different political wings. The publishers or owners do not want to anger the government. Journalists seeking justice are betrayed by union leaders. Professional capacity becomes secondary to political capacity, impeding collective action,” said Afsan Chowdhury.

“If you are going to be hurt in the line of duty, do it at your own risk. Owners and union leaders want to be on the safe side, they do not want to take risks,” he added.

Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ) Secretary Sohel Haider Chowdhury emphasized on accountability of the state and responsibility of the society to come forward to protect the right of journalists.

“Journalists work for the nation but they are helpless in protecting their own rights. The state and the society should protect them. Journalists are being tortured, assaulted, and killed but do not getting any justice. Society has to come forward to protect journalists. We hope we will get justice,” said Sohel Haider Chowdhury.

Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu on August 7 urged Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal to identify and bring to book those who attacked on-duty journalists in Dhaka during the student movement for safer roads.

“Such attacks on journalists while performing their professional duties are unfortunate, when it is known to all that the government is sincere about ensuring journalists’ safety,” he wrote.

“I’m seeking your (Kamal’s) personal intervention in bringing the attackers under the purview of law considering the issue of journalists being injured while gathering news,” he said.

Dhaka Tribune made repeated phone calls to information minister and the home minister to find out if any development in apprehending the attackers has progressed, but the phones remain unanswered.

DRU President Saiful Islam said they will submit a memorandum to both the home minister and the information minister after the 72-hour deadline for arresting the attackers expires today.

Not the first time

This is not the first time an assault or murder of journalists has gone unpunished. 

Every time, journalist unions protest, organize human chains or issue ultimatums to arrest culprits. In the past decade, at least seven cases of journalist murders have gone unsolved, putting Bangladesh in the top ten on the Global Impunity Index 2017 of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

According to Human Rights Watch, in 2017 there were at least 30 assaults on journalists, including the February murder of Abdul Hakim Shimul, a reporter for the daily Samakal, while covering political unrest in Shahjadpur. In August, journalist Abdul Latif Morol was arrested for satirical reporting of the death of a goat on Facebook and in early September, police detained two Burmese journalists reporting on the Rohingya crisis and held them for a week before releasing them on bail.