Condemning the recent attacks on journalists and the detention of noted photographer Shahidul Alam, three international journalists associations have written to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to take steps to prevent violence against journalists and ensure the release of Shahidul.
“We note with great concern a series of recent attacks on working journalists, several of which were reportedly carried out by supporters of your party as well as, in the case of journalists covering the ongoing student protests, by security forces,” Ravi R Prasad, head of advocacy of International Press Institute (IPI), said in the letter published on its website on Wednesday.
The IPI, a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, also urged Hasina to take robust steps so that all charges against Shahidul are dropped.
Describing the arrest and prosecution of Shahidul as a clear infringement of freedom of expression as guaranteed under international treaties signed by Bangladesh, the IPI noted that Shahidul has been charged with spreading propaganda and false information against the government through Facebook posts and an interview he gave to Al Jazeera.
These charges, the letter said, which are based on the controversial section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, appear to be an act of retaliation for Shahidul's critical views.
The writers of Bangladesh's constitution recognised the importance of a free press by guaranteeing press freedom, the IPI mentioned.
The letter also mentioned that the IPI network, whose head office in Austria, is extremely concerned over the Bangladesh government's move to replace the ICT Act with the Digital Security Act, provisions of which are equally or more draconian and will restrict the right of journalists to expose acts of corruption that Hasina's government has promised to eradicate.
“The bill if approved by parliament in the current form will have a serious, oppressive impact not only on journalists but also on all citizens of Bangladesh,” the IPI said.
In a joint letter to the PM, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) have said, “The disturbing circumstances of the arrest and detention of Shahidul has generated considerable outrage and can only be regarded as an authoritarian attempt to suppress an important critical voice in Bangladesh.”
The IFJ and SAMSN remain gravely concerned by the attacks on the journalists and photojournalists covering the students' demonstrations by masked men on the streets of the capital, said the letter signed by Anthony Bellanger, general secretary of IFJ, the world's largest organisation of journalists, headquartered in Belgium.
It urged immediate and unconditional release of Shahidul, asking security agencies to ensure safety and security to protect media, journalists, photojournalists and media staff covering demonstrations, and urgently investigate and arrest those responsible for the attacks on journalists and photojournalists.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development has condemned the arrest and alleged torture on Shahidul and urged the Bangladesh government to release him immediately.
The regional human rights group also condemned the crackdown on the student protest.
“It is high time for the government of Bangladesh to address the agitation in a peaceful manner, avoiding further injury and damage to journalists and protesters,” the rights body said in a statement yesterday.
In a statement yesterday, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad also denounced the attacks on journalists and demanded punishment of the culprits.
Journalist leaders of different associations yesterday demanded legal action against the perpetrators who carried out the attacks on journalists, and protection of journalists in any circumstances, BSS reports.
They made the demands at a rally organised by Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) on its premises.
Leaders from Dhaka Union of Journalists, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, Crime Reporters' Association of Bangladesh and DRU Multipurpose Cooperative Society took part in the rally.
In another development, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu yesterday said the journalists, who were injured while covering the recent “road safety” movement, would be given treatment free of cost.
“Those who are responsible for the attacks on journalists will be brought to book immediately,” he said.
The minister was talking to a delegation of journalists, including Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists President Mollah Jalal and Dhaka Union of Journalists President Abu Zafar Surjo, at the conference room of the ministry.