By Jahangir Alam Akash, Each day, to be a journalist in Bangladesh is becoming increasingly dangerous and risky. There is no press freedom there. The torture and killing of journalists is common; yet, even in this horrible situation, journalists continue to work there. Although the Bangladesh government says that the media is free, in practice it is not.
During the rule of the recent caretaker government, it was common practice for the joint forces, the Army, and the Rapid Action Battalion to torture university professors, journalists, writers, and human rights defenders, including famous dramatist and columnist Malay Bhoumic; Prof. Anwar Hossen Neem Chandra Bhoumic; Harun-ur-Rashid; Sadrul Amin; the present vice chancellor of Rajshahi University, Abdus Sobhan; the former vice chancellor of the same university and present Ambassador to the U.K., Saidur Rahman Khan; and also myself. No action against these perpetrators is possible.
For my professional work, I have faced false and fabricated charges. Major Rashid, the main perpetrator in the crimes against me, has been recruited to serve in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast. This makes it clear how well Bangladeshi authorities look into human rights abuses and treat the victims and the perpetrators.
Journalist Tasneem Khalil, who wrote an article criticizing the government, was taken by Army members to the facilities of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence, Bangladesh’s intelligence agency, and was brutally beaten. Now he has been exiled by the Bangladeshi government and lives in Sweden. Cartoonist Arifur Rahman was arrested and sent to the jail for making a cartoon, although he was freed from jail later.
Under the regime of the BNP-Jaamat government, journalist Saleem Samad, writer-journalist Shahriar Kabir, and famous writer Prof. Muntasir Mamun of Dhaka University were also tortured brutally and detained illegally. There are so many examples like those mentioned above. In Bangladesh, extrajudicial killings under the categories of “crossfire,” “encounter,” and “gunfight” are still going on, even though the present government is democratic.
Recently, in the subdistrict of Gafargaon, in the Mymensingh district, journalist Biblop was tortured by supporters of ruling-party lawmakers. Over the last 16 years, almost 24 journalists have been murdered in Bangladesh, including Manik Saha, Deponkar Chakraborty, Goutam Saha, Humayun Kabir Balu, Shamsur Rahman Cable, Harun-ur-Rashid Khokon, Saiful Alam Mukul, and Sheikh Belaluddin. But, as of yet, there has been no real investigation or trial. The community of journalists and the relatives of the murdered journalists are waiting for justice.
In last 38 years since independence, hundreds of journalists have been brutally tortured, including Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Atiquallah Khan Masud, Alhaj Zahirul Haque, Probir Shikder, and Tipu Sultan. This year, on July 3rd, a young journalist, Nurul Islam Sujon, was killed by terrorists at Uttara in Dhaka.
According to a report of the human rights organization Ain O Salish Kendro (ASK), from 2004 to 2008, 1,190 people were killed in extrajudicial killings. People had hoped that the present government would take steps to stop extrajudicial killings. But extrajudicial killings have been still going on in Bangladesh.
Another human rights organization, Odhiker, reported that, on April 13, 2009, the ‘cadre group’ of Gias Uddin, a local MP, attacked and gravely injured Abdullah Al-Amin Biplob, a Shamokal representative of Gafargaon, Mymensingh, following the publication of a certain news item. From January 1 to June 30, 2009, journalists have been subjected to repression in various ways. During this period of time, 41 journalists have reportedly been injured and 38 have received threats. All these incidents are in contravention of domestic and international laws.
In Bangladesh, freedom of the press is a golden deer. Those who are involved in corruption are controlled by the government. Present trends of media show that those who are corrupt are coming into ownership of media outlets.
Journalists are, first of all, self-censored. Another key to controlling the media is government advertisements. For media freedom, another problem is that, in Bangladesh, there is no definition regarding contempt of court or defamation. So the media lives in fear of these. Which content will be labeled as contempt of court or defamation, if published? Media people do not know. Recently, a famous national daily newspaper, the Prothom Alo, has been charged with contempt of court. There are no national broadcasting or publishing regulations, although a right to information act and a community radio regulation were recently enacted. Now we are waiting for see how these two rules will benefit freedom of the media. Journalists in Bangladesh are waiting for justice for their killed and tortured colleagues.