‘It is an attack on freedom of expression’
Some 20 journalists were attacked, intimidated, harassed, or arrested for reporting on pilferage, corruption, and lack of accountability in food aid meant for the poor during the lockdown, noted Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh.
The network of media rights defenders expressed concern at the attacks on freedom of expression, in a statement circulated to the media yesterday.
"The forum is deeply concerned regarding the series of attacks, intimidation, and judicial harassment of journalists and other media organisations all over the country, during the 30 days of lockdown," said the statement.
The forum aggregated all such incidences in the statement as a reminder of how widespread these violations have been.
On April 19, Toufique Imrose Khalidi, editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com; Mohiuddin Sarker, acting editor of jagonews24.com; along with three other journalists -- Rahim Suvho, Thakurgaon correspondent of bdnews24.com and a local journalist Shaown Amin -- were accused under the Digital Security Act, said the statement, noting that the person filing the case was a member of Baliadangi Upazila's Swechchhasebak League in Thakurgaon.
Two days after this incident, Thakurgaon police assaulted the district correspondent of Bangladesh Pratidin and private TV channel News 24 at a checkpost.
On April 15, Thakurgaon police also sued a district correspondent of Dainik Odhikar under the security act for criticising the district administration on Facebook, noted the statement.
Citizen journalists were similarly targeted in Thakurgaon, said the statement, presenting as evidence, the assault upon freelance video-blogger Sagor Chowdhury by the son of the president of Borhanuddin upazila Awami League. The attacker Nabil Hyder, is also a Chhatra League activist of Dhaka University unit.
The situation has been dire throughout the country, added the statement.
It also decried the incident where three district correspondents belonging to Dainik Protidiner Sangbad, Dainik Amar Sangbad and private TV Channel-S were attacked with a cricket bat by the chairman of Aushkandi Union Parishad in Nabiganj, Sylhet for reporting on relief distribution.
The chairman, Mahibur Rahman, is also a local leader of the ruling party, added the statement.
Shah Sultan Ahmed, the Nabiganj upazila correspondent of Dainik Protidiner Sangbad was shifted to Osmani Medical College in Sylhet with critical injuries, pointed out the statement.
Also in Sylhet, a Jaintapur upazila correspondent of the Daily Naya Diganta and the Dainik Sylhet Mirror, was hospitalised at Sylhet Medical College with serious head injuries after he was attacked by one Abul Hasim for reporting a local coronavirus case, said the statement.
On April 14, police arrested Golam Sarwar Pintu, journalist of Dainik Bangladesher Alo, after Sheikh Salim, a Dhaka city councillor of Ward 38, filed a case under the Digital Security Act with Badda Police Station, said the statement.
"Pintu's crime was the publication of news regarding an angry urban-poor community held protest, demanding food aid during the lockdown," it added.
On April 23, the chairman of Amirganj Union Parishad in Narsingdi assaulted Baten Biplob, senior crime reporter and TV anchor of SATV Khoj, and Sajal Bhuiyan, Narsingdi correspondent of TV channel SATV, when the duo approached him for an interview while he was in the middle of distributing relief rice.
"Baten Biplob in his Facebook post described the barbaric attack on journalist Sajal Bhuiyan who was profusely bleeding and crying in pain. He was admitted to Narsingdi government hospital. The perpetrators were not arrested and the police administration is not cooperating, it was alleged," noted the press statement.
In addition, five more journalists were assaulted or arbitrarily detained by law enforcers during the same time span.
"The Forum demands an end to such impunity. Also, those responsible for attacking and arresting frontline 'media warriors' should be brought to book," said the statement.
The statement was signed by Dr Aireen Jaman, general secretary, PEN International, Bangladesh; Faruq Faisel, South Asia regional director, Article 19; Saleem Samad, correspondent, Reporter Without Borders; Sayeed Ahmad, representative, Front Line Defenders; Mainul Islam Khan, representative, Committee to Protect Journalists; and Khairuzzaman Kamal, representative, International Federation of Journalists, among others.