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End war on freedom of media in Bangladesh

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September 21, 2011

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

Prime Minister’s Office

Old Sangsad Bhaban

Tejagaon, Dhaka-1215


RE:   End war on freedom of media in Bangladesh

Dear Prime Minister,

I am William Gomes, human rights activist and journalist. Journalists in Bangladesh are frequently subjected to physical assault, harassment, and intimidation as the country has been wracked by political and criminal violence.

Freedom of expression is the mother to all other freedoms. For a democratic government it is essential to maintain a media for promoting respect for differences of opinions and discussion, free from any kind of censorship which can fulfill its watchdog function.

By the years Bangladeshi news media played a brave and praiseworthy role in upholding democratic values in the country whether it was during the time of illegal army regimes or autocratic democratic regime. Journalists are in battle for democracy while the government has declared war against media.

I am deeply concern about the ongoing suppression of speech or other public communication, raises issues of freedom of speech, suppression on media even after the landslide win of Bangladesh Awami League which has formed the present government with overwhelming support given by the people of Bangladesh after the last election. A range of restrictive laws and violence against journalists continue to hamper media freedom and undermining the democracy.  

Bangladesh is still far from being free which brings us near to the point that democracy in Bangladesh still has many challenges to overcome where the challenge of media freedom is a vital factor.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Your government has a record of not tolerating criticism from the media.

 I am concern about the pressure placed on news organizations by the weak rule of law and the perceived lack of judicial independence in Bangladesh.

I recall the impunity in the crimes against journalists and judicial harassment of journalists in connection with their reporting are two of the most serious threats to media freedom and investigative journalism in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh already has an appalling record for unsolved journalist murders, 11th worst in the world, according to CPJ's 2011 Impunity Index.

I am noting some of glimps of attack on media and media personals the notable facts during the time of your office:  

In March 2009, the video-sharing web site YouTube has been blocked by your government after a recording of a meeting between you and army officers was posted.

In October 2009, F.M. Masum, a journalist employed by the English-language daily "The New Age", who was arrested and tortured by an elite crime and counter-terrorist force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB).

In March 2010, a photo exhibit about extrajudicial executions "Crossfire," by Shahidul Alam, features photographs and installations relating to alleged extrajudicial killings by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), was forcefully closed by police. Although your government had lift the  ban on the Drik gallery's "Crossfire" exhibition, When the high court convened on 31 March 2010 to hear gallery owner Shahidul Alam's appeal against the closure.

On April 2010, privately-owned Channel 1 TV station, which has been broadcasting for four years. The closure was announced on 27 April by Communications Minister Raziuddin Ahmed Raju, who said it was because the station had violated the 2001 Telecommunications Act by using broadcast equipment as collateral for loans.

In  May 2010, access to Facebook had  blocked in Bangladesh on  29 May 2010 , reportedly as a result of both the posting of Mohammed cartoons and "shocking" satirical images of prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country's first president.

In  June 2010, The Dhaka office of Bangladesh's Amar Desh newspaper was stormed by police on Wednesday, just hours after Dhaka's deputy commissioner, Muhibul Haque, ordered its publishing license suspended. Police also arrested acting editor Mahmudur Rahman on fraud charges.

In June 2010, charge of sedition had been brought against Mahmudur Rahman, the chief editor of the opposition daily "Amar Desh”. In the space of a few days, Rahman has been accused of fraud, obstructing the police, printing an outlawed group's posters and then sedition. Mahmudur Rahman became the victim of political persecution and  this case marks a tragic return to the old anti-democratic practice of harassing leading opposition figures.

In  June 2010, Mahmudur Rahman, the chief editor of the opposition daily "Amar Desh” on the open court said "Your honour, please save my life," The editor was quoted by local media as telling the court. "I am not supposed to be alive after the level of torture I have experienced at the cantonment police station. I was blindfolded and stripped by five men in the lock-up. I fainted after they pressed me on the chest and back."The editor was he was tortured in police custody.

In August 2010, Amar Desh newspaper editor and former politician Mahmudur Rahman was sentenced to six months in prison for publishing an article that accused the Supreme Court of bias towards the state. On 17 March 2011,  Mahmudur Rahman was released on completion of an arbitrary jail sentence for contempt of court. He was held for a total of nine months and 17 days.

In June 2011, Five journalists were injured in violence by ruling party supporters on 5 June 2011 in the town of Comilla, 100 km southest of Dhaka; two of them Abul Kashem Hridoy, the Comilla correspondent of Channel-i TV and the Bdnews24.com news agency, Pradip Dey, a cameraman with Bangladesh Television (BTV)  were  hospitalized.

Two days before that, four journalists on 3 June were Prothom Alo correspondent Touhidi Hossain (Towhidi Hasan), RTV correspondent Shiekh Hossain Belal, Ekushey Television correspondent Zahurul Islam and Ekushey Television cameraman Ahmed Sajeeb were attacked and injured by the employees of a company that is restoring a cultural site in the western district of Kushtia. The supporters of the ruling Awami League have no respect for the democratic process or for journalists.

In July 2011, In Narail, Moshiul Haque Mitu, 48, president of the Kalia Press Club and a Kalia upazila-based correspondent for the "Somokal" daily, suffered serious injuries after criminals threw bombs into his bedroom, on the morning of 11 July 2011. His wife, Rina Parvin, was also critically injured. They were taken to Khulna Medical College and Hospital and later transferred to the Dhaka Pongu Hospital.

In the same month, in a separate incident in the northern district of Rangpur, a gang in Kashiganj village, Badarganj upazila, attacked the Rangpur-based correspondent for Ekushey Television (ETV), Liakat Ali Badal, leaving him seriously injured. The incident took place on 11 July when Badal went to the village, along with ETV staff reporter Johnson Mahbub, to cover a story about the torture of two women.  

Imran Hossain, correspondent for the Rajshahi-based daily "Sonar Desh" in Tanore upazila, is in hiding in order to avoid arrest following an extortion case filed against him. Police ransacked his home and assaulted his wife.

In August 2011,  Ekramul Haq, founder and editor of the Bengali-language Sheershanews Web site and Sheersha Kagoj weekly was arrested by police alleging that the editor was trying to extort 2 million taka (US$26,800) from him for suppressing.  The arrest was part of a harassment campaign in retaliation for Haq's reporting on government corruption. The government cancelled media accreditation for the outlets' 10 journalists, including Haq. He was tortured in police remand and while I am writing to you he is still in prison and the news media was forced to close.

In September 2011, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) reportedly assaulted two members of the staff of the Bangla Vision TV channel in a neighbourhood of the capital city Dhaka, on September 12.
Cameraman Russel Mizan and broadcast engineer Hasanul Islam Raihan was admitted  to hospital for emergency medical attention.

 Bangladesh Television (BTV) work as mouthpiece of the government, regardless of which party is in power. Presently BTV is functioning as propaganda tool of the ruling Awami League government and highly controlled by the government and lacks professional standards.

Dear Prime Minister, I want to draw your attention although Bangladesh's constitution guarantees freedom of the press, it defines this freedom as "subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality. Which is also often used a profound ground to suppress and oppress the information from the media and stopped the media to freely publicize the information .

Basil Fernando: Director for Policy and Programme Development of Asian Human Rights Commission commenting on the present situations of Bangladeshi media freedom said “For a democratic government it is essential to facilitate a free platform of discussion and one of the important instruments of that platform is a free media, which is free from censorship.  A free media signifies the right of free speech and promoting respect for differences of opinions in public discussion. Without a free media a democracy is blind, deaf and dumb which are lead towards violence not justice and peace. The Bangladesh government has totally lost the characteristic of democratic government.

I want to recall  what eminent human rights personality said Bangladesh government has totally lost the characteristic of democratic government. Please urgently insure the freedom of Media in Bangladesh. I want to remind your election manifesto, which was called a charter of change, I urge you not to sacrifice justice for political interest.

I trust that you will take immediate action into this matter.


Yours sincerely,


William Nicholas Gomes


Journalist and Human Rights Activist



Skype: William.gomes9

Face book: www.facebook.com/wngomes

Twitter: www.twitter.com/persecutionbd




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