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Bangladesh April 7, 2005
H.E. Khaleda Zia
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Office of the Prime Minister
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Fax: (011.88.02) 811-3244
The Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) is appalled that Bangladesh continues to be one of deadliest places in the world for journalists to work in a manner that would be considered normal and would be legally protected in most of the world. Instead, in Bangladesh , it seems the government tolerates and even encourages an attitude that makes journalists fair game to extremist groups and even to politicians.
Last year, two journalists were killed by bomb attacks in the Khulna District. A third was abducted and murdered in the Chittagong District; his decapitated body was found near his house the next morning. A fourth journalist was attacked in front of his home in Sherpur by a gang of five men who hacked him to death, leaving his decapitated body in the street. Another journalist was attacked in Chittagong by assailants who slashed her forehead, mouth, and hands. She survived. These journalists had reported courageously on the activities of organized crime. Janajuddha, the underground communist faction, claimed responsibility for the two Khulna attacks. Yet, the people arrested so far appear to have no connection with Janajuddha.
So far in 2005, a bomb placed outside the Khulna Press Club fatally wounded Sheikh Belalluddin Ahmed of the daily newspaper, Sangram, and injured three other journalists. Another journalist in Khulna was struck in the back by a bomb thrown at him, but it failed to go off. At least five other journalists have received death threats from criminals or the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami party. One of those threatened was Shumi Khan, who survived a knife attack last year.
While these attacks continue with apparent impunity for the attackers (in spite of some token arrests) Bangladeshi authorities show more interest in restricting press freedom than in defending it.
In March, a high court sentenced one journalist to two months in jail and fined six others for contempt of court because they had reported that a high court judge faked his qualifications. The judge resigned. Even if these reports had proven false, the normal practice in democracies, as recommended by the United Nations, is to seek damages for defamation. Not to send journalists to jail.
The Bangladesh Criminal Investigation Department charged Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and publisher of the tabloid, Blitz, with sedition, a crime punishable with death. Choudhury has been under arrest since November, 2003, when he was preparing to attend a conference in Israel. Travel to Israel is illegal for Bangladeshi authorities, but the charge against Choudhury in February apparently arises from his reporting about religious fundamentalism in Bangladesh .
Last year, a four-person delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists went to Bangladesh to study the condition of journalists there and “was subjected to blatant surveillance and harassment by government minders,” according to the CPJ. The sensitivity of the government to outside criticism is understandable, but that criticism will never cease until journalists in Bangladesh can practice their profession in safety.
Our colleagues in Bangladesh perform an essential service to modern democracy, Your Excellency. We need your assurance that authorities will protect them, not stand by while they are made victims of murderous attacks and threats for practicing their profession.
Freedom of the Press Committee
Syed Hasan Ahmad
Ambassador of Bangladesh to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
3510 International Drive, NW
Washington , DC 20007
Fax: (202) 244-5366
Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh
to the United Nations
227 East 45 Street, 14 th Floor
New York , N.Y. 10017
Fax: (212) 972-4310
Harry K. Thomas, Jr.
U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh
Embassy of the United States of America
G.P.O. Box 323
Fax: (011.8802) 882-3744
21 Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue
Fax: (011.8802) 861-8130
The Daily Star
19, Karwan Bazar
Fax: (011.8802) 812-5155
1 Ramkrishna Mission Road
Fax: (011.8802) 669-6794