Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday condemns the unacceptable physical attacks by ruling Awami League activists against 10 journalists covering last weekend’s municipal elections in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, and calls for those responsible to be brought to justice and expelled from the party.
Two of the ten reporters attacked on 1 February had to be hospitalized with serious injuries. One was Agami news website reporter Mostafizur Rahman Suman, who was taking photos at a polling station at Zafrabad secondary school in the residential district of Mohammadpur.
Suman was attacked and badly beaten on the head at around 11 a.m. after photographing Awami League activists entering the polling station carrying firearms. With his head covered in blood, he managed to escape his assailants and was admitted to a hospital.
At around the same time, Press Bangla Agency reporter Zihad Iqbal was attacked by Awami League activists while covering the voting at Nikunja Jan-e-Alam school about 20 km to the south and is still receiving treatment at Kurmitola hospital from the serious injuries he sustained. It is not yet clear what triggered the attack.
“The gravity of this renewed violence against journalists who are just doing their job has reached a completely unacceptable level.” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “We call on police inspector general Javed Patwary to ensure that those responsible for these systematic attacks are brought to justice. And, given their links to the ruling party, Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader must move at once to expel activists who refuse to accept the role that the free press plays in a democracy.”
Mahabub Momtaji, a reporter for the Bangladesh Pratidin newspaper, and Business Standard reporter Nurul Amin were roughed up at the Madrasa Faridabad polling station in south Dhaka by members of the Chhattra League, the Awami League’s student wing, who detained them until they deleted the photos on their mobile phones. The same group of activists also manhandled Al Fatah Mamun, the Dainik Jugantor correspondent in the adjoining district of Gandaria.
In a district a short distance to the north, Poriborton news website photographer Osman Ghani was attacked and injured while taking photos of clashes between Chhattra League activists and riot police at the polling station at the Kamrunnesa girls’ school.
Around 20 km further north, the Kaler Kantha daily newspaper’s chief photographer, Sheikh Hasan, was attacked at the Madartek school polling station by supporters of the Awami League candidate for councillor Alhaj Jahangir Hossain, who forced him to delete the contents of his camera’s memory card.
Awami League activists seized Daily Star reporter Foisal Ahmed’s mobile phone when he filmed them trying to intimidate voters at the nearby Ideal School and College polling station. They returned it after deleting the photos and videos he had just recorded.
A short distance to the east, ruling party activists at the Mathartek Abdul Aziz school polling station beat the Dainik Nayadiganta newspaper’s Shamsul Islam and the Dainik Inqilab’s Faruque Hossain.
RSF documented many press freedom violations before, during and after the December 2018 parliamentary elections, which were won by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League.
Bangladesh is ranked 150th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, four places lower than in 2018.