Thursday, May 8, 2008

Non-freedom of the press in Bangladesh

Press under attack in Bangladesh

Sunita Paul - 5/2/2008

Case of a female journalist: Sumi Khan, a 34-year-old journalist working with local and national magazines and based in the city of Chittagong, was attacked and received death threats as a result of her investigative journalism against corruption. She was stabbed in an attack in 2004, and her attackers remain at large.

It is claomed by some sources that, Sumi Khan wrote investigative articles alleging the involvement of local politicians and religious groups in attacks on members of minority communities, and about kidnapping and land-grabbing by landlords.

On 12 March 2005 Sumi Khan received a written death threat telling her to retract articles she had written on Islamist groups.

Khan received a number of international awards including that from Amnesty International. And after receiving such recognitions, she virtually turned silent and is no more in the mainstream media in Bangladesh.

Unheard case of Zahid:

Zahid Al Amin, a young and promising journalist from Chittagong was not fortunate like Sumi Khan. He became a prime target of Jamaat-e-Islami's armed cadres when we wrote a number of investigative reports of trafficking of narcotics and arms by Jamaat cadres in Chittagong. During publication of such reports, Jamaat men left life threats on Zahid several times and finally attacked him thus mercilessly beating him with the goal of murdering this young journalist. At one stage, attackers thought Zahid Al Amin was already dead and left him in blood on a road in Chittagong. But, luckily, Zahid survived. He went through series of surgeries and medical treatments in Bangladesh and abroad and finally was forced to leave Chittagong for ever, as the attackers gave ultimatum to him for either leaving the city or Zahid's family members would be their next prey.

Zahid Al Amin's case was reported in a number of newspapers in Bangladesh. But, he was never within the attention of Amnesty International or Reporters Sans Frontiers. Because, Zahid Al Amin did not have any cherishma to reach into such 'precious' attentions. Moreover, people representating Amnesty or RSF were not intending to report Zahid's case for reason unknown.

Being in Dhaka, Zahid is present working with a vernacular daily newspaper named Amadershomoy as a reporter.

Zahid case came to attention of a number of international organizations as well as media personalities just last week, when Dhaka's most influential English language newspaper Blitz published a brief report on this courageous reporter.

The convicted editor:

Matiur Rahman Chowdhury is almost a household name in Bangladesh because of his cherismatic personality and high profile journalistic career. In past several decades, Chowdhury worked with a number of leading newspapers in Bangladesh thus finally landing in his own Daily Manabzamin, a tabloid sized vernacular daily newspaper. He is also the correpsondent of VOA Bangla service in Dhaka.

Few years back, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury published the text of telephonic conversation between former military ruler Hussain Muhammed Ershad and a judge with Bangladesh Supreme Court. The entire conversation was on Ershad's requests to the judge in according special favor to him. Publication of the report in Manabzamin created virtual havoc in the country, which finally led the judiciary in taking approrpriate decision on the case. But, very unfortunately, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury was summoned by the judges in Bangladesh Supreme Court, on charge of Contempting the court. After prolonged hearing for days, the court awarded three months conviction to Motiur Rahman Chowdhury. Although Chowdhury made appel against such judgement and yet to go to jail for serving the conviction, such punishment to an eminent and front-ranking editor in the country reminds every other members of the press community that, they should even keep silent in many cases, although they get evidences of high profile corruption.

In his life as the editor, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury was the first person to raise the demand of establishment of diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Israel. He has also published series of investigative reports in Manabzamin on various extremely important issues. Recently, Chowdhury was the only editor in Bangladesh's vernacular press to protest government's ridiculous attitude towards the newly appointed American ambassador Mr. Moriarty.

Censorship on media:

People in Bangladesh may not be aware of the ongoing severe repression of press, which mostly continue behind the screen or silently. It is evidently proved that such actions are continuing in the country under the present military backed interim government. Although under any State of Emergencies, basic human rights as well freedom of expressions are greatly abused by the rulers. In Bangladesh, when political scenarios suddenly changed on 11 January 2007, for the first time, army did not intervene in the freedom of press or freedom of expression. Print and electronic Medias were publishing reports and commentaries, which even went against the rulers. At one stage, policymakers of the present rulers termed media as the alternative parliament, in absence of real parliament in the country. Members of the press community were extremely delighted to get such compliments from the government. But, suddenly, things are changing. Government reportedly has sent unsigned written instructions to the private television channels banning a number of noted intellectuals and journalists like Mahfuzullah, Nurul Kabir [editor of New Age], Asafuddowlah [editor of Bangladesh Today], Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury [editor of Bangladesh Observer], Manzurul Ahsan Bulbul [executive editor of Sangbad], Amir Khosru [senior journalist], Shawkat Mahmud [general secretary of National Press Club], ABM Musa [senior journalist], Golam Sarwar [eminent journalist], Farhad Mazhar [columnist], Asif Nazrul [professor], Barrister Tania Amir while the government has allowed Nayeemul Islam Khan [editor, Amader Shomoy], Dilara Chowdhury [professor], Dr. Ataur Rahman [professor], Mahbub Ullah [editor, The Independent], Farid Ahmed [Bureau chief of Associated press], Major General Syed Muhammed Ibrahim [politician], Dr. Kamal Hossain [lawyer], Ferdous Ahmed Qureshi [controversial politician] and some others in any of the commentaries in private television channels. Such actions of the government will stop the outspoken editors and social activists from expressing their minds anymore in the mass media. On the other hand, government is continuing to put pressures on owners of newspapers in the country, which will either cause in closure of the newspaper or facing tremendous repressions of the owners and editors of such newspapers by the state machinery.

Case of Weekly Blitz editor:

Internationally known anti Jihadist award winning Bangladeshi journalist and editor of Dhaka's most influential newspaper, Weekly Blitz, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is also facing trial in sedition, treason and blasphemy charges for confronting radical Islam and jihad, advocating inter faith understanding and for demanding Bangladesh's relations with Israel. For past five years, Choudhury is facing extreme adversity as well as mental and financial constraint for his courageous stand against Islamists. His office was bombed while there had never been any action by the former BNP-Islamist Coalition government. There had not been any action against the attackers [belonging to Cultural wing of Bangladesh Nationalist Party], who attacked and physically assaulted him in October 2006. The present government is also playing dilly-dally in taking any action against the criminal officers in Rapid Action Battalion [Unit-3] for abducting the editor and another member of Weekly Blitz of 18 March 2007, looting cash and valuables and for total reign of terror. Despite repeated written complaints with the chief advisor as well as army chief, looted items have not been returned yet.

Mr. Choudhury received Freedom to Write Award from PEN USA in 2005, American Jewish Committee's prestigious Moral Courage Award in 2006, Monaco Media Award in 2007 and many other awards and recognitions from international community.

Commenting on Shoaib Choudhury, The New York Times in its editorial said, "Bangladesh may now be among the world's most dangerous countries for journalists. That makes, Mr. Choudhury's courageous stand for Muslim-Jewish dialogue all the more admirable and vital to defend."

The Washington Times in its editorial said, "The United States must encourage people like Mr. Choudhury to speak out. But when they do, it also should do all it can to protect them. Freeing Mr. Choudhury will tell others like him that when you stand against Islamists, the United States will stand with you."

The New York Sun wrote, "Mr. Choudhury is a man in the mold of such heroes of freedom as Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa."

The Berliner Zeitung wrote, "Would Choudhury consider it, if along with this acknowledgement the request also nevertheless came to give up his fight and to free the family from their state of siege? The family would have enough money to lead a calm life abroad, and they would have a good chance of leaving Bangladesh despite the current legal proceedings. But for Choudhury his struggle has long ago become his. Who leaves the battleground, has lost, he says. However, whoever struggles for the right cause always wins."

The Australian wrote, "This is why we ought to be taking notice of Choudhury. It's not just a question of saving one man's life. He is part of a threat that is facing all of us. And he is on the right side in a very long battle of ideas."

The Daily Pennsylvanian wrote, "Now that we've found a man willing to advocate for peace and denouncing extremism, we must seize the opportunity. No one else will speak out if we allow those who already have spoken to die."

The Jerusalem Post wrote, "In this tense atmosphere, Choudhury has paid a very heavy price for his beliefs. In November 2003, he was arrested at Dhaka's international airport just prior to boarding a flight on his way to Israel, where he has been scheduled to deliver an address on promoting understanding between Muslims and Jews."

The Australian Israel Review wrote, "Shoaib in an outspoken supporter of Muslim-Jewish and Muslim-Christian dialogue, opposes anti-Israel" maximalism and has exposed the agents and activities of Islamists who have been gaining in strength and influence in his country."

The Suburban in its editorial wrote, "They are neither. They work alone, with no support, forging ahead to bring the truth into open. The International Press Freedom Awards that recognizes courage in journalism is an important event that brings the plight of these journalists to light. But it's not enough. They deserve encouragement and support because in dangerous situations, they champion everything we hold dear, and often take for granted."

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is possibly the most quoted Bangladeshi journalists in the global media. But, authorities in Dhaka are reluctant in recognizing his courage. To them, he is a 'bad man'. To the Islamists, he is an 'evil'. To journalists selling their ideologies in exchange of few leafs of bucks, Choudhury is 'a paranoid'.

But to United States Congress, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is a real hero. US Congress, Australian Senate and European Parliament have passed resolutions in favor of this courageous man. Unfortunately, in the eyes of rulers in Dhaka, people like Choudhury are headache. That is why possibly, the present military emergency government in Bangladesh has listed Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury in the list of 1608 black listed journalists thus terming them as 'not journalists' and instructing authorities concerned not to issue press accreditation cards to them.

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