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     Volume 4 Issue 11 | September 3 , 2004 |

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Silencing Another Voice of Truth

Shamim Ahsan

It was the early hours of Sunday on August 22. The people of Moddhompara in Tintohori Bazar in Manikchori under Khagrachori district were fast asleep. At around 1.30 am Abul Bashar, a local VDP member, called Kamal Hossain, the Khagrachori correspondent for the Bangla daily Ajker Kagoj. The call at such an unearthly hour made Kamal suspicious and he chose not to respond. His premonition came true when, a few minutes after Bashar's call, a gang of 15 to 20 masked, armed terrorists, started to hit the door with shovels. Kamal quickly hid on the roof. The weak wooden door was soon broken open and in came the murderous youths. When they couldn't find Kamal they got hold of his younger brother Zakir Hossain and started beating him. When his wife and mother came to stop them they were also brutally beaten. The ornaments she was wearing were also snatched away. Then the goons grabbed Kamal's two-year-old child Shahin and threatened to kill him if Kamal didn't come out of his hiding. It worked. The hapless father this time showed up to secure his son's life. They then tied his hands on his back, beat him up mercilessly and finally took him out with them to a jungle.

Twenty-eight year old Kamal never returned home. After some 6 hours at around 8 am, Kamal's beheaded body was found at a Kochukhet beside Kontamara hill, about two kilometres away from his home.

As the news of Kamal's brutal murder spread out hundreds of people, specially the local journalists, rushed to Manikchori Thana to see the dead body. What followed is nothing new. Angry protesters, comprised of people from all walks of life demanded to identify the killers and give them exemplary punishment. The incensed local journalists community expressed their deep shock at the incident, wore black badges and announced other programmes in protest of the killing. Different journalists forums based in Dhaka have also condemned the killing in the strongest words. The victim's family was showered with sympathy and condolence messages from different political and social groups. Rani Nihar Devi Government High School and the Government Primary School in Manikchori Sadar were instantly declared closed for the day.

A case was lodged on behalf of the victim's family but no name was mentioned in the complaint.

Additional District Magistrate Aminul Huq has visited the place and ASP (Additional Superintendent of Police) Shantonu consoled the protesting crowds saying the police drive to catch the killers was already on. Four days into the murder no one has yet been arrested. In fact there was no follow up news of the case.

It's the same pattern being played out again and again--a murder followed by fierce condemnation and demands for exemplary punishment of the culprits, a half hearted coverage in the media, a few sighs of dismay from readers and then it all becomes a forgotten incident. But the fact remains that this is another step backward for a supposedly free press. Intimidation of journalists has been a common trend during both AL and BNP rule. The brutal murders of Shamsur Rahman in Jessore, BBC stringer Manik Saha, Humayan Kabir Balu, editor of Khulna-based Janmabhumi and the vicious attacks on countless other journalists who somehow managed to survive, continue to haunt the journalist community. Most of the intimidation takes place far away from the capital where media persons take unbelievable risks to write the truth and protest against the mafia activities that thrive in remote regions. Both AL and BNP governments have made tall promises about upholding democratic values, one of which is to keep the media free and vibrant. But the continuous and frequent cases of repression of journalists, whether through direct attacks and murders or indiscriminate arrests, are proof of the fact that they have done virtually nothing to live up to such claims. We do not need the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) to tell us that Bangladesh is the most dangerous place in all of Asia for journalists. Kamal's chilling assassination and the murders of many others leaves no doubt about the basis of such a label.


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