ABID AZAD

Things that make you to Think

A Threatened Profession

The report on the increasing hazards of journalism in Bangladesh was published at Morning Tea, the weekend magazine of The Daily Sun.

On 11 February this year, people all over Bangladesh were horrified by a blazing headline on the newspapers that announced the tragic death of a journalist couple based in the capital. Journalist Golam Mostafa Sarowar (Sagar), more commonly known as Sagar Sarowar, and Meherun Runi, were brutally killed by miscreants in the early hours of that day, in their flat in Dhaka.

Their horrific demise, which left the journalist community as well as the concerned citizens of the country in shock, orphaned their only child –the five-year-old boy Megh.

Sagar was the news editor of private TV station Maasranga, and his wife Runi was the senior reporter of TV channel ATN Bangla.

Home Minister Sahara Khatun had declared a 48-hour deadline, within which she assured the murderers of the journalist couple would be brought to justice. However, after five months, the case remains unsolved, with no substantial clue recovered that might point the law enforcement agencies towards the killer(s). After months of futile investigation, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Bangladesh Police handed over the case to the elite force Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

“The investigation is still ongoing. As the police could not find any clues behind the murder in all these months, this case is now being handled by the RAB,” said a RAB official.

Furious by the standstill situation, several journalists’ organisations around the country are demanding exemplary punishment for the criminals and safety for the journalists.

Following the double murder, another shocking incident occurred in broad daylight on 26 May 2012, when three photojournalists of noted Bangla daily Prothom Alo were beaten up by some police personnel while they were on an assignment. The journalists were severely injured and admitted at a nearby hospital.

Previously in the same month, Abdullah Al Mamun, a regional correspondent of the Daily Kaler Kantho in Pabna, was attacked by a group of criminals allegedly led by Aminul Islam, nephew of Advocate Shamsul Huq Tuku, the State Minister for Home Affairs, for publishing a report on their family’s corruption.

Only two days later, on 28 May 2012, a group of miscreants stabbed two journalists of an online news portal while storming their offices in the capital with sharp weapons, iron rods and sticks at night.

On the next day, six journalists, who were correspondents of several newspapers at the Court, including lawyers, were seriously injured by the police near Dhaka Chief Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court. The police attacked them while they were staging a protest against the police officers who had assaulted a 15-year-old girl at the Court premises, who was there with her parents.

Amidst all these incidents, Jamal Uddin, a reporter of a local Bangla newspaper in Jessore, was brutally killed on 15 June 2012, allegedly for writing reports against the local drug lords.

Media and journalism are believed to make the fourth pillar of a modern democratic state. It is the reason why its power and importance among people keeps growing every day in the
developing countries like Bangladesh. However, judging by the aforementioned incidents that left journalists dead or brutally injured, the idea of free media and security of journalists are becoming vague with each passing day in our country.

According to reports prepared by Odhikar, a Bangladesh-based human rights watchdog, three journalists, including the couple, have been killed in the first half of 2012. 72 were injured, 35 were assaulted and 43 were threatened, says the same report.

The report further says that 21 journalists have been killed, while 967 have been injured, 368 assaulted and 1,019 threatened since 2004. 464 out of around 3,103 different incidents since the same year have been reported to the law enforcement authority, according to the
report.

Unfortunately, all the murder cases remain unsolved.

In light of these recent incidents, Shakhawat Hossain, president of Dhaka Reporters’ Unity (DRU), expressed his concern about the safety of journalists. “Such incidents would not have occurred if the previous cases regarding journalists’ murders and attacks were resolved,” he commented.

In such a hazardous situation, experts fear that it is likely to get worse in the future as the accused criminals are getting away from punishment through loopholes of the law. In addition, media experts are also concerned about the condition of our “free media” as well as the gradually deteriorating security of journalists in Bangladesh.

“I think it is happening due to the state of impunity and the government’s lack of concern regarding the proper punishment to the criminals,” said a special correspondent from a reputed newspaper in Bangladesh.

“The attacks on journalists are really very shocking and unexpected. However, the reality is that people from all strata of this society are deprived from proper justice one way or the other, as criminals, even if they are arrested, are often successful in getting out of the trial. Thus, not only journalists, but the general people also do not receive the justice they deserve,” commented Professor Dr Mizanur Rahman, chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in Bangladesh.

“What is more important is that people are now losing faith upon our judiciary system. For this reason, anyone may feel free to take the law in their own hands, which in turn will only encourage them to commit crime,” he pointed out.

Alongside the national concern, many international organisations and media personalities expressed great concern for the fragile situation of the country’s media and journalism.

Bob Dietz, Asia programme coordinator at The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an independent and non-profit organisation, shared his deep concern with this reporter regarding the life-threatening situation for journalists in Bangladesh.

“A free press is fundamental to any democratic society. CPJ has found that no convictions were recorded in the journalist murders in Bangladesh over the last decade. It is a stunning record of impunity that gives the country one of the world’s worst records in terms of securing justice when journalists are murdered, and this trend does not seem to be getting any better. That, and the frequency of physical attacks on journalists doing their jobs around the country, indicates a troubling decline in press freedom in Bangladesh this year,” said Bob.

Founded in 1981, CPJ has been promoting press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.

CPJ believes that, as journalists are under attack from many different forces in Bangladesh, the state’s inability to bring the accused to justice, combined with a lack of political will to protect them, reflects a deeper fault within the entire system.

However, CPJ stated that for the first time since CPJ launched the Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered frequently and their killers go free, Bangladesh is not listed as no convictions have been recorded regarding the journalist killings over the last decade. A seven-year absence of records of these killings led Bangladesh to be dropped from the index.

“Government would much rather see a cowed and intimidated media that will not point out its flaws. Because the murder rate appeared to be slowing, for the first time this year, Bangladesh did not appear on CPJ’s Impunity Index. Unfortunately, police suggest that the 15 June murder of Jamal Uddin was probably related to his reporting on the criminal drug trade. If true, Bangladesh’s improved status on our index is unlikely to last. Although CPJ has not confirmed the motive in the shocking double murder of journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi in February, the slow pace of that investigation is another
point of concern that the cycle of impunity will continue,” Bob said to this reporter.

Among the 12 countries where at least five journalists have been murdered and the governments failed to convict a single perpetrator, in the Impunity Index, which covers the years 2002-2011, Iraq is in the first place where no convictions have been obtained in 93 journalist slayings in the past decade. The rest of the countries are as follows: Somalia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Nepal, Afghanistan, Mexico, Russia, Pakistan, Brazil and India (the names are mentioned in accordance with the Index’s order). In India, six cases of journalist killings remain unsolved, while in March the country led opposition to
the UN’s Journalist Safety Plan that included anti-impunity efforts.

From these statistics and reports, it is understandable that the situation of free press in Bangladesh is not much better than the other countries; rather, it is becoming more troublesome every day.

Despite a number of protests staged by several organisations against the attacks on journalists all over the country, the number of assault keep climbing, hindering the normal course of journalism and constantly attacking the freedom of press.

“What is more, whenever an attack on a fellow journalist takes place and the journalist community around the country stage a protest, expressing their unity and demanding justice, security and freedom, the trend of oppressing the protesters and burying the issue takes over the situation and, after a while, the victims do not receive their much-deserved justice,” said several journalists while talking with this reporter.

Media experts think that if such state of impunity remains and killers go free, it will destroy the concept of free press in near future. If this happens, the only outlet for the general people to voice their opinion regarding any issue will be silenced and blinded, which cannot be accepted in a democratic country.

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