We are alarmed by the lack of action to check and investigate the spate of attacks on journalists covering the elections in Dhaka city corporations allegedly by individuals linked to the ruling party. Official response to these attacks—as well as those on the opposition activists and supporters—has so far been muted or inadequate at best, as neither the Election Commission nor Dhaka Metropolitan Police authorities have properly addressed the issue yet. At least 15 journalists were beaten, threatened, denied access to polling stations, or had equipment broken or taken while covering the elections on February 1, according to a statement by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), citing local reports. Attacks on journalists continue to be a running theme for the election even as its results—however questionable—were announced. According to a report by Prothom Alo, two more journalists came under attack on Monday after they went to Badda to inquire into allegations of post-election violence by the supporters of a newly elected AL ward councillor on their opponents. This is a worrisome development as it shows how lack of action and even acknowledgement by the responsible authorities can embolden the culprits and continue to put journalists in harm’s way.
The question that comes to mind is: why were journalists attacked and driven away if, as the EC claims, the elections were free, fair and peaceful? The EC’s failure to acknowledge such incidents, let alone take any action to prevent them, is but an example of its deeply partisan character and its inability to function as a constitutional body. Such response belies the fact that attacks on journalists covering elections in Bangladesh are getting increasingly common. We have seen this too many times. We have seen this during the last national election. Or during local elections in different parts of the country. And as common as the attacks have been the dodgy responses, or lack thereof, by the authorities. “Of all the attacks on journalists in the near and far past, none have been tried yet,” according to a spokesperson of the rights group Article 19, which has expressed grave concerns over the attacks on journalists during Dhaka city polls.
Although the government has reiterated its commitment to the freedom of the media and protection of journalists, the reality is, as far as election violence is concerned, no substantive action has been taken to fulfil that commitment. We urge the government, particularly the EC, to investigate and bring to account all the perpetrators of violence against the journalists covering the February 1 polls or the past elections. Any threat to journalists’ freedom to work freely and without fear or intimidation is a threat to democracy, and any government that derives its legitimacy from a democratic exercise should respect that freedom for its own good.