Press Freedom in Bangladesh
By Jahangir Alam Akash, The long autocratic government was just ended. I was then a college student. In the remote northern area of Bangladesh, Panchagarh, I worked as a trainee-journalist in Dainik (daily) Bangla. In its office I came to know the patriot journalist Mr. Shamsur Rahman Cable Bhai. 16 July is his death-anniversary. In this day in 2000, miscreants killed him by bullet. He was then in Jessore, as Staff Correspondent of daily Janakantha. He was the living store of terror, politics, socialism and all other informations. The days in the lives of Bangladesh Journalists come and go, months go New Year appears after the old but the trial for Journalist-murder does not happen. The head of another patriot journalist Manik Shaha was blown away with bomb-attack! Even today the bloody picture of him, I can clearly remember! Free media is far cry; the life of a journalist is not secured.
Without democracy, independence can’t be enjoyed, human rights is also then absent. In this world of disunity and illegalities, journalists are facing more risks. Journalist-killing-oppression in this restless world of war and terror is nothing new. 29 journalists have been killed including a writer in last 17 years. In last year 324 journalists were tortured by the ruling party cadres and law enforcers.
But gradually the call for freedom of press or for free media is going to be loud worldwide. Crossing the media this call has reached in the greater part of the society of citizens. Reason is that without the free media, democracy is helpless. Media and democracy is completing each other. In South Asia then, the risk of journalism is extreme. In Bangladesh, the journalists are facing incessantly the cruel supervisory of the government with state tortures and harassments.
The responsibility of the media is to lead the people to the path of truths with true reports. They are always in favour the oppressed, deprived, poor’s, victims of torture and persecutions. They fight for the establishment of rule of law, introduction of true democracy in state machineries and political system. From their professional duties and responsibilities, they are working amidst innumerable risks, threats and humiliations. In Bangladesh, two private TV Chanel have been closed by the government. If any news on corruption, nepotism, political terror, tender-frauds, and forceful occupations of properties are published, the concerned journalist is now to pay! He is to face the consequences!
As Journalist reports on the peoples’ wants, expectations and problems and on their reasons, they write about the corruptions and misuse of powers by the persons in power and in administration. So they are the direct targets of the law-enforcing authorities who are the backbones of the corrupt politicians and administrative officers. Ekushey TV and CSB News are two examples. They were very popular. Government on various please and tricks have closed the both Channels. Through intervention of the court, Ekushey TV has again been on broadcast. One latest example of torture on Journalist in Bangladesh is Biplob of Daily Shomokal, representative in Gafargaon, Mymensingh. His hands and feet were broken. A retired Army Officer who is now MP of AL has provoked directly to torture him, as reported in the Newspaper. We don’t know the end of the event. In Dhaka Uttara, a young Reporter of a Community based Newspaper; Sujan was killed on last 3 July. Few days back in Rajshahi, the Reporter of daily Star, Anowar Ali was wounded by terrorists attack. During the Emergency, apart from this writer, the Daily Star Journalist Tasneem Khalil was persecuted. In Sylhet, Bandorban, Nilphamari and many other places, Journalists were harassed through forged cases during the Emergency.
After 15 August 1975 with the murder of Sk. Mujibur Rahman, Military Government began to sit like a heavy stone on the people of Bangladesh. Through many movements, sacrifices, in 1990 the long reign of Army was ended, the pigeon of the democracy was free again. In 1991, BNP, founded by General Ziaur Rahman obtained the power through election. After coming to the power, BNP demolished all journalist-organisations. From the Newspapers and News Agencies and Media of the government, the Journalists who were not liked by BNP, they were evicted in mass. Without giving any termination-benefit, BNP government fired the then Daily Bangla editor Towab Khan, the then executive editor of weeklly Bichitra, Shahariar Kabir and other 12 senior journalists.
In 2002 to make a documentary Film for BBC Chanel-4, foreign Journalist Jaiba Malik and Bruno Sorentino came to Bangladesh. BNP government arrested these two British and Italian journalists, and Shahariar Kabir, Salim Samad and Pricila Raj of Bangladesh. On the fake charges of Bomb-attack event in a Cinema Hall in Mymensingh, the BSS Journalist Enamul Hoq Choudhury and prominent columnist and historian Professor Muntasir Mamun were arrested. While in custody during the BNP government, the journalists were brutally tortured.
At the end of April 2009 miscreants has threatened Shamim Parvez Khan, Dhamrai Correspondent of Daily Sangbad to kill his life. He took a courageous role to save the innocent people of the area from the forges cases. The vested interested circle was perturbed. In spite of GD entry in police station, the terrorists was not arrested. Shamim Al-Amin of Daily Shomokal in Gafargaon, Mymensingh was attacked in this time. His hands and feet were fractured. Attacks were made by the cadres of the Retd. Army Govt. MP Captain and Giasuddin Ahmed.
On 16 April 2006 during a Cricket Test Match of Bangladesh and Australia, on a frivolous incident, the Police led by the then DC Ali Akbar, engaged for the security attacked on the Journalists. On 29 May 2006 in Kushthia the then Govt. MPs let loose their cadres and on the attack, prominent Journalist, Editor of Bangladesh Observer, Mr. Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, President of BFJU, was severely wounded. I could still see in my mind the bloody face of him. Terrorists cadres were not punished.
Journalism is my profession, addiction and the total projection of my life. With my investigative journalism as I have tried to do something for the welfare of the people, that was the reason of the disaster of my life. I have always done ‘non-partisan’ reporting. I never thought of to be the victim of state-terrorism myself. About the oppressions and tortures I have reported and had no pretentions that they would act on my life as Boomerang, I shall be the victim of similar molestations. My life is at the door of destruction, insurity and insecurity now. I don’t know these uncertainties would ever end. Because the social stagnation of our country is only deteriorating, we are proceeding towards an uncivilised-barbar society. The growing extinctive powers are engulfing the entire country. Although we know, thousands of oppressions and threats cannot check the tide of the people. An idealist can’ be forced to give up his principles. No state terrors can extinguish the light of the truth. So the truth-hunters and pen-fighters journalists of Bangladesh can never be intimidated. The system of our justice is full of persecutions and oppressions. So people have taken the facts of crossfire and encounters, introduced by the state, very naturally (with exceptions). In general they don’t protest on the activities of Police, RAB or Army. Society is silent even though persons are killed under the custodies of police and RAB. Government has legalise (accept) these misdeeds. There is impunity also. The role of media is also controversial. They just report on the Press release on crossfires. Of course there is few who courageously report the truth and then fell into troubles!
The conscious of the nation are the Journalists. They help the upliftments of the country. But the tortures of RAB on have reached in peak during the Emergency: A bright example is I, myself. Another brave journalist, Shahariar Kabir, during the BNP-Jamat qualition government was indescribably tortured by RAB. He is a human rights personality, an eminent columnist. With wounds in his body he is now living. I have faced the same situation but we want that such barbarisms are not repeated with any Journalist anymore.
Murders and persecutions of the Journalists: Manik Saha, well-known Journalist of Daily Sangbad, New Age, correspondent of now closed Ekushey TV-Chanel was killed with heinous attack of terrorists bombs on 15 January 2004 around 1-15 p.m. Such a brutal murder of a Journalist is almost unparallel. In whole country, this killing was protested, a huge reactions occurred. But till today the murderers are out of legal-catch. On 2 March 2004, the part time Journalist of daily New Age, Abdul Latif Nabil of Keraniganj was slaughtered and killed. His wife had a lover, Nirjon Mustakin and he with his friends Shahidul Islam Pappu and the wife, Konok together had planned to kill Nabil as he earlier opposed her breach of marriage. They were all arrested.
On 27 June 2004 Khulna Pressclub President Humayun Kabir Balu, Editor Dainik Jonmobhumi was killed by terrorist bombing in Khulna. In the same year on 21 August, at night the daily Ajker Kagoj-Correspondent and Upozilla Chattra Dal General Secretary Kamal Hossain of Manikchari, Khagrachori was kidnapped from his house and slaughtered. In the same year on 2 October at late night, Diponkor Chakraborty (59), Executive Editor of Durjoy Bangla, Bogra and Vice-President BFUJ was killed by the terrorists by the side of his house in Sanyalpara, Sherpur. The killers have chopped him with axe. On 14 October 2004 in the evening, in Katabon, Dhaka, terrorists entered into the office of daily Newspaper, Asian Express and shot and killed Shaheed Anowar Appolo (35). Appolo was the Executive Editor of the Asian Express, known from a visiting card from his pocket. It happened due to a conflict with contractory business.
On 5 February 2005 in Khula Press club with bomb attacks Sk Belaluddin, Khulna Bureau Chief of daily Sangram was killed and 4 other Journalists were injured. At Comilla, on 29 May 2005, at midnight, Muhammad Gholam Mahfuz (38), Editor and Publisher of Daily Muktokantho of Comilla was slaughtered and killed by the terrorists. The Correspondent of daily Shomokal in Faridpur, Gautam Das, Correspondent of daily Runner in Jessore, Gholam Majed, Harun-ar-Rashid of Khulna, Humayun Kabir Balu of daily Jonmobhumi, Manik Saha of daily Sangbad, Jalaluddin of Rangamati, Mir Ilyas Hossain Dilip of Jhinaidoho, Sk. Belaluddin of daily Sangbad, Nohor Ali, Shukur Ali Hossain, Ahsan Ali of Narayanganj, Faruk Ahmed of Moulavibajar, of Nilsagar, Nilphamari Muhammad Kamruzzaman, S.M. Alauddin of Satkhira, Samsur Rahman Kebol of daily Jonokantho, Jessore, Saiful Alam Mukul were all killed by the terrorists. Whether any criminal of the murders of Journalists, Writers, Intellectuals and Humanrights-workers has been punished, we don’t know. During the qualition government, on purely political grounds, prominent columnist Professor Muntasir Mamun, Journalist Shahariar Kabir, Enamul Hoq Choudhury was victims of state terrorism. Eminent Journalists Iqbal Sobhan Choudhury, Alhaj Zahirul Hoq were molested. Persecuted was Journalist Prabir Shikdar, Tipu Sultan. In the last 15 years, 23 Journalists were killed in Bangladesh. From Dhaka Uttara published, community based fortnightly Muktomon’s Journalist Nurul Kabir Sujan was killed by the terrorists. The last victim of Journalist-killing in Bangladesh is Sujon.
Much discussed Journalist-killings: Journalist Manik Saha, Shamsur Rahman Kebol, Humayun Kabir Balu, Diponkor Chakravarty, Goutam Das, and Harun-ar-Rashid Khokan. Saiful Alam Mukul, Sk. Belaluddin. During the army-controlled Emergency interim government the oppressed Journalists: Editor daily Janakantha and Publisher Freedom Fighter, Atikullah Khan Masud, Tasnim Khalil, Cartoonist Arifur Rahman etc. Following the events in DU and RU, the prominent dramatist and columnist Malay Bhowmic was the victim of vicious tortures. No real culprits of these crimes have been tried. As per the report of private organisation, ‘Odhikar’, in the time of the present government from last January to 30 June, 2009, 41 Journalists are victims of oppressions. Five of them were physically assaulted due to their reports. 38 Journaists were threatened in this period.
These incidences are not new. During Emergency, Journalist were taken to Army Camp and tortured physically. Whether the Journalist-community could effectively demand justice for the persecutions of their colleagues, it is also a big question of today! Journalists are divided and the politicalisations of them, absence of proper administration and effective democracy, opportunism, parity, media towards the capital of the riches and other reasons have worked as obstacles for the justice of journalists-murder and tortures. As Journalists and citizens of the country, we want to say clearly neither a politician, nor a Journalist, nor a citizen, nor from other professions must not be tortured under custody of law and order. On behalf of the Journailists Community, this is our demand and expectation.
All accused, criminals and the persons related to them must be brought into books and tried. Till today no effective enquiry and trial has been done.
Without an ideological change of the society, the Freedom of Press in Bangladesh is a Golden deer. Corrupts in every government have the upper hands. With black money, new riches are buying the Media gradually. Emergency government has controlled media through proclamations. Media is under the ownerships of black-money holders. They have no ideals without inception. Primarily Journalists are facing the obvious self-censorships. Surrounding the government ads, hundreds of Newspapers are born in the country. How many of them do anything for social welfare? Advertisement is a big weapon of the government to control the media. The multinational companies are controlling media through ads. Crisis in profession is also an obstacle for the Freedom of Press in Bangladesh.
Another problem is the absence of true definitions of ‚contempt to Court’ and ‚defamation’. Recently the contempt to Court was raised against the Publisher-Editor of dainik Prothom Alo. What report is ‚contempt to Court’, which is not, is not clearly defined anywhere. This is a risk for the journalists. Above all, in Bangladesh there is no ‚National Codes of Broadcast’. Giving explanations and maladministration, disunity amongst Journalists, political divisions and ´because of the eco-social-political structures, Journalists-persecutions are not ended. If any journalist is killed or mishandled, there is no trial. So the criminals are encouraged.
The remedies are blocked in the fixed ideas of the people. They think Justice has gone to ashtray! It must be broken through the mass unity of the patriots. If we can go up of the mere interests of politics, personal or groups, then through peoples-uprisings, the problems of state and society can be solved. The culture of the absence of justice and impunity’ is so deeply rooted that after the brutal killings of the colleague, we are to go to the street with slogan, ‘we don’t get justice so we don’t want it.’ We wish a change of this situation.
Good news are that the Emergency government has framed ‚the Community-Radio-Codes’, Human rights Commission has been formed. The present government with the implementation of ‚Right to Information-Act’ has enabled Media a step ahead to its Freedom, experts believe. But only Acts do not act. These are to be materialised through free-executions. New Information Minister has said, ‚the cases against the journalists will be withdrawn.’ It is very good. But one thing must be clear: For example, one Journalist X who has done really crimes. Will his case be withdrawn also? We want to say distinctly as a responsible citizen, no, all cases should not be withdrawn. The forged cases filed for harassments should only be withdrawn. Otherwise the rule of law would be hampered.
Jahangir Alam Akash
The Human Rights Today