Report on Bangladesh by Reporters Without Borders

Sushanta Das Gupta

Sushanta Das Gupta

Sushanta Das Gupta is the Publisher/Chief Editor of E-Bangladesh.

[Sushanta Das Gupta, UK]

Reporters Without Borders has released their 2008 Annual Report on Bangladesh. Among their major concerns this year are the rise of the military government, the lack of freedom of press, threats to media personnel and the torture of journalists:

Bangladesh – Annual report 2008
Area: 144,000 sq km.
Population: 144,460,000.
Languages: Bengali, English.
Head of state: Iajuddin Ahmed.

A drop in the number of physical assaults and death threats was eclipsed by dozens of cases of arrests, maltreatment and censorship committed by the army against independent journalists. The interim government and the military put an end to political disorder but at the price of serious violations of press freedom.

There was a sharp decrease in the number of journalists physically attacked or receiving death threats from political militants and criminals. On the other hand, arrests increased markedly, with almost 40 cases in 2007. And the army, the real power in the country, committed serious press freedom violations aimed at silencing independent journalists. The government constantly stated that the media had a role to play in the fight against corruption and social injustice, but these good intentions were confounded and, in a new development, self-censorship began gradually to be applied to political issues. “Some asserted that the media was becoming the parliament in the absence of a government formed by elections. Others welcomed the emergence of a fourth estate. But one thing in the media was missing: critical articles on the current administration, clearly demonstrating the existence of censorship and self-censorship”, the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication (BCDJC), a Reporters Without Borders partner organisation, said in one of its recent reports.

Censorship imposed at every political convulsion

A state of emergency was declared on 11 January and the country’s TV and radio were ordered to stop broadcasting their news programmes for two days. When the government faced student demonstrations at the end of August, it banned stations from broadcasting talk shows and political programmes. Army intelligence services officers summoned editorial heads and threatened them with draconian criminal proceeding, including under Article 5 of the State of Emergency Regulations. CSB News and Ekushey TV were ordered by the Press Information Department not to broadcast “provocative” reports and commentaries. A management figure at ATN Bangla told Reporters Without Borders, “The ban on talk shows is a disaster. While there is no parliament, political broadcasts are the best way for citizens to comment on the government’s decisions.”

Privately-owned television stations, which enjoy growing popularity in the country, were the main target of crackdowns. The government in September ordered the suspension of CSB News whose management had allegedly forged a document to obtain a frequency in October 2006, and police closed the station, but the decision was probably linked to the broadcast of footage of opposition demonstrations, in defiance of warnings from the authorities. According to the Daily Star, members of the government even accused the station of inciting students to demonstrate in Dhaka.

The written press did its best to resist pressure from the authorities. Mahfuz Anam, editor of the privately-owned Daily Star, said in an editorial in January, “As long as we have not received a written order from the government, we will consider them illegal (…) Friends of democracy never silence the press, it is only done by dictators. The people of Bangladesh will never accept dictators”. But in September, the management of Prothom Alo was forced to apologise and to sack the deputy editor of its humoristic supplement, Aalpin, under pressure from conservative clergy after cartoonist Arifur Rahman drew a sketch which included wordplay on the name Mohammed, gently poking fun at the habit of people in some Muslim countries of putting the name Mohammed before their usual name. Police arrested him and seized all copies of the magazine, which was accused of “hurting the people’s religious sentiment”. The copies were ritually burned in front of one of the capital’s mosques.

During the year, privately-owned dailies, such as Prothom Alo, Inqilab, Amader Shomoy, Jugantor, Daily Star and Shamokal were also victims of judicial harassment. The newspapers had to employ a large number of lawyers to keep their editors and journalist out of prison in the face of around 100 defamation suits.

Journalists tortured by members of the military

Several journalists were tortured for investigating the security forces. Tasneem Khalil, journalist and blogger (tasneemkhalil.com), was detained and tortured in May after openly criticising the army for the spread of extra-judicial killings. The Human Rights Watch consultant and contributor to CNN was forced to flee the country. Jahangir Alam Akash, correspondent for the newspaper Sangbad, and for CSB News and German radio Deutsche Welle in Rajshahi, who had been investigating the ‘execution’ by the army of a student leader, was arrested by soldiers on 24 October. He was released on bail on 19 November and spoke about the hell he had lived through at an army camp. “Officers and soldiers tortured me for several hours: electric shocks, blows to my legs. I couldn’t walk for a week,” he said.

Police, acting under emergency laws, arrested two journalists in March in Moulvibazar in the north-east, after local politicians laid a defamation case against him. A correspondent for the Daily Star, Asduzzaman Tipu, spent one month in prison after being falsely accused of extortion.

No fewer than 15 journalists were arrested on the same evening when a curfew was imposed in August and around 30 others were beaten by police and soldiers deployed in the capital. The chief news editor of the privately-owned Baishakhi TV, Anis Alamgir, was beaten up by soldiers, while a photographer with the daily Dinkal was seriously injured by police. The authorities apologised by nobody was punished for the assaults.

On the other hand, the anti-crime struggle allowed the arrest of suspects in the murders of journalist Gautam Das in 2005 and of Shamsur Rhaman in 2000. And several politicians, including Shahidul Islam, former member of Parliament from the Kushtia region, responsible for attacks on journalists in 2006, were taken into custody.

Although weakened, Jihadist groups continued to threaten journalists. An Islamist group threatened an attack on the Jatiya press club in May and in April extremists sent a letter containing death threats to a journalist on the daily Bhorer Kagoj, in Chittagong in the south-east of the country.

Finally, even though no journalist was killed for their work in 2007, the authorities did not fully clear up the circumstances of the death in March of Jamal Uddin, correspondent for the news agency Abas and local newspaper Dainik Giri Darpan, in Rangamati in the south-east, whom the authorities said had committed suicide. The president of the Rangamati press club said the journalist’s body bore marks of blows all over his body, which had been found lying at the foot of a tree, with a rope around his neck.

Reporters Without Borders has also published the Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007. Bangladesh ranks 134th amongst 169 countries.

The International Media have shown growing concern over the recent rise in human rights violations in Bangladesh. One thing is evident, that no matter how much secrecy the military government tries to impose over its violation of human rights, the world is hearing about it. Because of the ready availability of information due to the internet and other channels of communication, we can now learn about the misrulings and outrages committed by this military government.

Sushanta Das Gupta is the Editor, E-Bangladesh.

[Read posts by Sushanta Das Gupta]

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Civil Engineer, publisher, blogger, politician and end of the day a proud Bangladeshi.


2 Responses to “Report on Bangladesh by Reporters Without Borders”

  1. mahmud

    I heard something today that I can’t avoid sharing with all the people
    I know. The subject of the story is a senior friend of mine: Dr. Mahbub
    Majumdar. Mahbub bhai did his undergrad from MIT(electrical eng), an
    MSc from Stanford (civil eng) and PhD from Cambridge (theoretical
    physics, string-cosmology) .

    After PhD he had many offers but chose to do a post-doctoral fellowship
    at Imperial College (London) since he wanted to stay in England (by the
    way, in England, imperial college is the best place
    after Cambridge and Cambridge has a rule of not taking their own
    student as post-doc). I met Mahbub bhai and I can simply say that
    I never met anybody in my life so modest, honest and compassionate as
    Mahbub bhai. Just to give an example, Mahbub bhai received US$ 1000 per
    year forbooks as a part of his presidential scholarship. He used to
    spend this money buying books for Dhaka university library.

    During his post doctoral years Mahbub bhai made frequent visits to
    Bangladesh and worked as a coach for the Bangladesh math Olympiad team.
    Only those who are involved with the hectic field of high energy physics
    knows what sacrifice this means.

    Anyway, to our great surprise, Mahbub bhai (who was born and brought up
    in USA and can’t even speak bangla very fluently) decided to join the
    Dhaka University Physics department as a faculty and … failed to get
    any position. Today I heard what happened during the interview.

    The “interview” was taken by Yusuf Haider, Badrul Alam and Aminur
    Rashid (I decided not to use any Sir after their name and comment on their
    character).

    During the interview they first raised question about Mahbub bhai’s
    certificate from Stanford. The certificate showed the name of the
    university as Leland Stanford Junior University. The interviewers suspected
    that this is not the Stanford university they heard of. At some point
    somebody suggested that they can look it up in the internet (you can do
    that too and make sure to take a look at seal of the university).

    Then they asked him to write down the Maxwell’s equations. Mahbub bhai
    wrote is down with exterior derivatives in one line (most useful and
    elegant form for theoretical physicists). The interviewers did not
    understand what he wrote and asked him to write it again. Mahbub bhai now
    wrote it with tensor notation.

    The interviewers again found it incomprehensible and asked for it
    again. At some point Mahbub bhai wrote all four Maxwell equations
    in a form understandable for first year physics students and everybody
    was happy.

    Then the interviewers expressed their concern whether Mahbub bhai will
    be able to take care of first-second year labs since he
    does not have “relevant” experience. At some point, they asked him
    whether he read the advertisement properly and pointed out that they
    require the candidate to have a BSc in physics whereas Mahbub bhai has a
    bachelor in electrical engineering. Therefore, the interviewers decided
    that Mahbub bhai is not qualified to become a faculty of DU physics.

    A senior friend of mine (who told me the story) commented: “I am happy
    that Mahbub did not get the job. It is good for hie career.

    But I am sad for Bangladesh.”

  2. J. Sadeq

    I think it is quite reasonable to write down fundamental stuffs in standard form. It is understandable that a person who is doing condensed matter physics or some other branches of theoretical or experimental physics even high energy theory and phenomenology–not necessarily be familiar with Maxwell equations written with exterior derivatives or in some case field-strength tensors. Therefore, to write down these in a generically incomprehensible way in a job interview and in addition–not to bring required documentations is foolish if not stupid.
    It is not even a requirement to know that if someone does his masters
    in Physics (forget about first year). I would like to know what Mr.Majumdar
    is doing now? Is he still doing Physics? How many papers did he publish in the last 5 years?

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