How violence against journalists has swelled during the lockdown
Like Bangladesh, the world is sick, reeling in the coronavirus pandemic.
Besides the “healthcare warriors,” the journalists are also in the frontline reporting on Covid-19.
The journalists and citizen-journalists are frequently targeted by state and non-state actors while reporting, which the media rights defenders have deemed a serious threat to freedom of expression.
When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took an effort to scale-up food aid for the disadvantaged population in response to the nationwide shutdown, the media organizations, journalists, and whistleblowers had to take the brunt of vengeance by local leaders and government officials, including the police during the 30 days of lockdown since March 26.
Nearly 20 journalists were attacked, intimidated, harassed, or arrested for reporting on pilferage of food aid meant for poor people who are facing extreme hardship during the lockdown.
The Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh (FExB), a network of media rights defenders, expressed deep concern over the series of violence, intimidation, and judicial harassment of journalists and news organizations during the lockdown.
The platform states that Thakurgaon district is the worst place for journalism in the country after six journalists were subjected to judicial harassment within a week.
Two editors, Toufique Imrose Khalidi of bdnews24.com and Mohiuddin Sarker of jagonews24.com, along with three other local journalists were accused under the draconian Digital Security Act.
After 10 days of publication of news in two news portals on misappropriation of open market sale (OMS) rice, the Baliadangi Upazila’s Swechchhasebak League, also a local ruling party leader Mominul Islam, filed a case against the journalists.
In a separate case, police sued Al Mamun, a local journalist in Thakurgaon under notorious cybersecurity laws for criticizing the district civil administration in Facebook for its failure to take effective measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus during the lockdown.
Another journalist in Thakurgaon, Abdul Latif Litu, a correspondent of Bangladesh Pratidin, was assaulted by police at a check post during the lockdown.
Sagor Chowdhury, an editor of a local news portal in Borhanduddin Upazila, Bhola, posted a video on Facebook on embezzlement of food aid which angered the son of Jashim Uddin Hyder, president of Borhanuddin Upazila Awami League and also chairman of Boro Manika Union Parishad.
However, Borhanuddin Upazila police arrested the perpetrator Nabil Hyder, a member of the Chhatra League of Dhaka University, who posted a video on Facebook where he was seen assaulting Sagor Chowdhury.
In Habiganj, three journalists, Shah Sultan Ahmed, a local journalist of Protidiner Sangbad, Mujibur Rahman, correspondent of Dainik Amar Sangbad, and Bulbul Ahmed, correspondent of private TV Channel-S, were attacked with a cricket bat by Mahibur Rahman Harun, chairman of Aushkandi Union Parishad.
Sultan posted a video on Facebook which revealed that the local Aushkandi Union Parishad was distributing 5kgs of rice instead of the allocation of 10kgs for each ultra-poor fishing community.
Nasir Uddin Rocky, a staff reporter of Dainik Jugantor in Chittagong, was crossing a check post by motorbike. The police arrested the journalist but later released him unconditionally.
A similar incident at a check post in Bogura -- police assaulted two journalists Majedur Rahman, correspondent of Shomoy TV and Shahjahan Ali of Ekattor TV. The journalists were dragged to the police station in handcuffs and were released without charges.
In the capital Dhaka, police arrested Golam Sarwar Pintu, journalist of Dainik Bangladesher Alo, after a Dhaka city councillor of Ward 38 filed a case under the notorious Digital Security Act with Badda Police Station. Pintu’s crime was the publication of news regarding the angry urban-poor community protesting and demanding food aid during the lockdown.
In a check post in Dhaka, police assaulted Tuhin Howlader, court correspondent of Bangladesh Pratidin.
Again in the southern district of Barishal, Bangla Vision TV correspondent Kamal Hossain was attacked by hooligans when he tried to cover a gathering in violation of the lockdown.
Rezwan Karim Sabbir, a Jaintapur Upazila correspondent of Dainik Nayadiganta, was hospitalized at Sylhet Medical College with serious head injuries after he was attacked by Abul Hasim, who was annoyed by an article in which the journalist had reported a local coronavirus case.
Not far from the capital, Chairman of Amirganj Union Parishad in Narsingdi, mercilessly attacked Baten Biplob, senior crime reporter of SATV and Sajal Bhuiyan, Narsingdi correspondent of SATV.
Baten Biplob in his Facebook post described the barbaric attack on journalist Sajal Bhuiyan who was profusely bleeding and crying in pain.
Meanwhile, international media rights organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has also expressed alarm at the increase of violence and judicial harassment of journalists trying to cover coronavirus-related issues in Bangladesh in the month since a general lockdown was imposed on the population.
Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email [email protected]