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Newspapers which are critical of Bangladesh’s ruling party risk being shut down, say analysts [Reuters]
|Dhaka, Bangladesh – Media workers here in Bangladesh’s capital fear that ever-greater restrictions are being imposed upon them by officials. Two Bengali daily newspapers and two television channels, all reportedly with links to the country’s opposition movement, have been shut down “temporarily” over the past year.
Furthermore, as the government begins its second term in power, the ruling party has said that a National Broadcasting Policy for private television channels would soon be brought in to ensure “free and fair media practices”.
Critics say this is an ominous sign for the freedom of the press.
“Whenever a government talks about a media policy, they are in fact talking about controlling the media to their own convenience,” said Nurul Kabir, editor of New Age.
‘Temporary’ shutdown of media houses
Inqilab, one of the nation’s oldest Bengali-language newspapers, was shut down “temporarily” on January 16, after the daily published a report: “Indian troops assist in joint forces operation in Satkhira.” The paper continues to publish news online, despite its physical presses being stopped.
The article had attempted to investigate a series of rumours and documents doing the rounds on social network websites, which claimed that Indian soldiers had taken part in an operation in violence-torn Satkhira, a border district in the country’s south-west, before the national polls took place on January 5.
After the report’s publication, four journalists, including Ahmed Atiq, the story’s lead reporter, were arrested at the Inqilab offices.
“The printing house of the Bangla daily Inqilab has been closed for running a misleading report,” said Information Minister Hasanul Huq Inu on January 17. “It will be reopened if the Inqilab authorities win in the case filed for running the report.”
A case was filed by the government complaining that the “baseless” and “fabricated” report had tried to “demean the image of the country and the military”.
A Dhaka court on January 20 granted a two-day remand for detained Ahmed Atiq and sent Inqilab‘s news editor, Rabiulla Robi, and deputy chief reporter, Rafiq Mohammad, to jail.
Syed Ahmed Gazi, Inquilab‘s defence lawyer, said that sources for the article were attributed at the court. “Although action is being taken against the reporters, with Atiq being taken into [custody], the shutdown of the daily is unreasonable. The government did not show any valid logic behind shutting down the daily’s print edition,” he told Al Jazeera.
While questioning the credibility of the report, Shahed Chowdhury, President of Dhaka Reporters Unity said the government could have protested against the report through an official rejoinder, which is the normal practice here – “rather than arresting the journalists”.
Journalists in Bangladesh feared that Inqilab may suffer the same fate as Amar Desh, another pro-opposition Bangla daily, whose printing press was raided and sealed by police in April 2013, after the arrest of editor Mahmudur Rahman, a critic of the ruling party.
Despite a High Court ruling on August 7, 2013, asking the government to explain why its obstruction of the press should not be declared illegal, Amar Desh‘s lawyer said the government had not responded – nor had there been a hearing following the judgment.
On May 6, 2013, the broadcast signal of Diganta Television and Islamic Television, two pro-opposition TV stations, was suspended – on charges of inciting religious extremism and causing social unrest. Both channels had tried to cover the Hifazat-e-Islam rally in Dhaka earlier in the day.
“To make investigations easier, we had provided 24-hour footage of our channel and that of pro-ruling party television channels of the said day,” Shams Eskander, managing director of Islamic Television, told Al Jazeera. “We had also requested the Information Ministry let us initiate transmission without airing the news. But none of our requests were granted.”
When asked about the fate of these media houses, Information Minister Inu told Al Jazeera that they remained under suspicion. “Investigations on whether they had ulterior motives behind their broadcasts and publication, are still going on. The matters will be decided once the investigation ends,” he said.
Referring to the opposition’s allegations that the four media outlets were shut down due to any alleged political stances they may have taken, Inu said: “These allegations are baseless. For example, Inqilab has already regretted and apologised for its report. By making such statements, the opposition is resorting to falsehood.”
National broadcasting policy
Many journalists, especially among TV outlets, are wary of the draft National Broadcasting Policy.
The proposal includes guidelines for broadcasting; licensing as well as advertisements, and also a section about the nature of programmes that would be deemed “improper”.
With 40 rules and regulations, covering 46 approved government and private television channels, the policy contains several clauses that delineate boundaries that programming must not cross. The policy also empowers the information ministry to make all necessary decisions regarding broadcasting licenses.
“The policy will be passed within a few months,” Inu told Al Jazeera. “We will have another discussion with the stakeholders on January 29, where we will seek more feedback.”
‘Violation of media freedom’
Nurul Kabir, of New Age, maintains that the goal of the policy is to stifle dissenting voices.
“Given the fact that the incumbents of the day have closed two television stations and two mainstream newspapers, it’s only natural that they are planning to control the media in general for own political convenience,” he said. “This is a clear violation of democratic freedom of expression of the media as well as of the people in general.”
While criticising Inqilab‘s report for being “politically biased”, Fahmidul Haq, associate professor of mass communication and journalism at the University of Dhaka, said arbitrary shutdowns of media houses were an ominous sign of the government disregard for legal procedures.
“Any policy that can give the government a right to cancel licences or curb criticism of government activities will be a violation of media freedom,” he concluded.
Supporters accuse authorities of keeping opposition figure Khaleda Zia under de facto house arrest. [AFP]
|Bangladesh police fired water cannon and shotguns at opposition protesters in the capital, killing one person, at the start of a banned mass march aimed at thwarting next month’s general election.Hundreds of demonstrators, some throwing home-made bombs, battled police on Sunday as they tried to gather at the opposition’s headquarters and other places throughout Dhaka for the so-called “March for Democracy”.
The opposition says an election scheduled for January 5 must be held under a neutral caretaker government, as in the past, to prevent ballot-rigging.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia, a two-time former prime minister and Hasina’s arch-rival, has urged supporters to defy the ban on Sunday’s march and converge on the capital.
In Rampura neighbourhood, more than 200 demonstrators threw small bombs at police who responded with shotgun blasts during clashes there that left one person dead, a senior officer said.
Police have banned the so-called “March for Democracy” amid fears that the rally would become a focal point for more unrest after what has already been the deadliest year of political violence in the country’s history.
Police have detained more than 750 opposition supporters as a “preventive measure”, while authorities have suspended Dhaka-bound bus, ferry and train services, virtually cutting off the city from the rest of the country.
The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies have staged weeks of deadly protests, strikes and transport blockades to try to force Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to resign. Dozens of people have been killed.
Sticks and rocks
Running battles erupted between police and protesters near the BNP headquarters where Zia was scheduled later Sunday to address the rally, TV footage showed.
Ruling party activists, armed with sticks and rocks, also clashed with opposition protesters outside the press club.
Scores of police stopped Khaleda Zia’s car as it tried to drive from her house to the march in the capital, where hundreds of her supporters are clashing with security forces, aide Shamsher Mobin Chowdhury said.
“Khaleda Zia boarded her car and tried to leave her house to lead the march. But police barred her car from leaving,” Chowdhury, who is also a vice-president of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party, told AFP news agency.
Police and security forces have conducted nationwide raids, searching trains and buses to arrest opposition supporters.
They have also set up check posts for passengers and commuters at the entry points to Dhaka.
Security has been tight in the city with around 11,000 officers and the elite Rapid Action Battalion patrolling the streets and key flashpoints.
The Supreme Court rejected an earlier life sentence imposed by the country’s war crimes tribunal [File/Reuters]
|Bangladesh has hanged opposition leader Abdul Quader Mollah over war crimes, making him the first person to be put to death for massacres committed during the country’s bloody 1971 war of independence.
Abdul Quader Mollah, 65, a senior leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, was hanged on Thursday at 10.01 pm (1601 GMT) in a jail in the capital Dhaka, government officials said.
The legal case against Mollah has heightened political tension in Bangladesh less than a month before elections are due. Jamaat-e-Islami is barred from contesting elections but plays a key role in the opposition movement led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
Security was tight around the jail where Mollah was hanged. Extra police and paramilitary guards were deployed on the streets of Dhaka, while hundreds of people gathered at a major intersection in the city to celebrate the execution.
Moqbul Ahmed, JI’s acting leader, said in a statement on the party’s website that people would revenge Mollah’s execution by deepening the role of Islam in Bangladesh. The party called a nationwide general strike for Sunday.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Dhaka, said that judges ancestral homes had been attacked in the wake of the decision.
Micro-level civil war
“It has been a very tense atmosphere in which this review is going on,” our correspondent said.
“People are worried, it’s almost like a micro-level civil war.”
While a strong reaction to the decision from JI was expected on the streets of Dhaka, the city remained relatively calm.
But at least five people were killed earlier on Thursday near the port city of Chittagong as clashes broke out between opposition activists and police.
Party activists also clashed with police, torched or smashed vehicles, and exploded homemade bombs in the cities of Sylhet and Rajshahi, TV stations reported.
Scores of people were injured in the latest violence to hit the South Asian country, which has seen weeks of escalating tension as it struggles to overcome extreme poverty and rancorous politics.
In eastern Bangladesh, security officials opened fire to disperse opposition activists, leaving at least three people dead and 15 others wounded, Dhaka’s leading Bengali-language newspaper, Prothom Alo, reported.
The violence broke out in Laxmipur district, 95km east of Dhaka, during a nationwide opposition blockade after elite security forces raided and searched the home of an opposition leader, the report said.
Life sentence overturned
The Supreme Court passed the order of a review petition filed by Mollah against its verdict, awarding him the death penalty for his wartime offences. He had originally been due to be hanged at 18:00GMT on Tuesday, his lawyer said, but the court delayed the execution to consider his petition.
His original life sentence had been overturned by the Supreme Court in September, after mass protests called for him to be hanged.
A panel of five judges led by Chief Justice Mohammad Mojammel Hossain rejected the petition after hearing arguments on the appeal against the death penalty, a state prosecutor said.
Mollah is one of five opposition leaders condemned to death by Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), set up in 2010 to investigate atrocities perpetrated during the 1971 conflict, in which three million people died.
Critics of the tribunal say it has been used as a political tool by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is locked in a political feud with BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia, as a way of weakening the opposition ahead of January 5 elections.
“The execution of… Mollah should never have happened,” said Abbas Faiz, Amnesty International’s Bangladesh researcher. “The country is on a razor’s edge… with pre-election tensions running high and almost non-stop street protests.”
But many Bangladeshis support the court, believing that those convicted of war crimes should be punished, underlining how the events of 42 years ago still resonate in the impoverished, divided nation of 160 million people.
Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000” [Reuters]
|At least six people have been killed and more than 100 injured across Bangladesh and more than 100,000 opposition activists rallied in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and order polls under a caretaker government.
Police said the protesters died after officers and border guards opened fire in three towns as the supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies protested across the country, AFP news agency reported.
Two protesters were killed and several others were injured by bullets in the southern resort district of Cox’s Bazaar when border guards opened fire at several thousand supporters of the BNP.
“The border guards opened fire after the BNP activists defied a ban on rallies and attacked the forces,” Cox’s Bazaar district deputy police chief Babul Akter told AFP.
Several television channels reported that three people died in the central district of Chandpur when police and ruling Awami League supporters clashed with opposition supporters.
At least 30 people were injured in the clash in the area, which is 64km east of the capital.
A demonstrator died in the northern town of Jaldhaka after the elite Rapid Action Battalion opened fire at about 10,000 rampaging supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally of the BNP, area police head Mohammad Moniruzzman told AFP.
The violence also spread to the eastern district of Comilla, where at least 20 people were injured.
Similar clashes were also reported in Bangladesh’s second-largest city, Chittagong, which is in the southeast, and in many other towns across the country.
In Dhaka, opposition supporters allegedly set fire to a car and a bus, but no injuries were reported.
At least 10 homemade bombs were exploded at a premier public university area in Dhaka.
Ruhul Kabir Rizvy Ahmed, a spokesman for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said at least 400 opposition supporters were arrested across the country.
The clashes occurred as the BNP and its Islamist allies called nationwide mass protests to force Hasina to resign ahead of the January 2014 elections and set up a technocrat-led caretaker government to oversee the polls.
BNP leader Khaleda Zia addressed a rally of over 100,000 supporters at a national memorial in central Dhaka, renewing her threat to boycott the polls and setting Hasina a new weekend deadline to hold a dialogue on her demand for a caretaker government.
“There will be no election under Hasina. We won’t allow any one-party election. The election must include all parties and be conducted by a neutral caretaker government,” Zia told the crowd, announcing a nationwide strike for Sunday to Tuesday to press her demands.
Bangladeshi politics has long been dominated by a feud between the two dynastic leaders who distrust each other.
Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000”. Witnesses and BNP officials said the figure was double.
Tensions have been rising in Bangladesh since Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) party rejected an October 24 deadline set by the BNP for accepting its demands.
Zia, who has twice served as premier, branded the government “illegal” as of Friday, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before elections slated for January 2014.
But the ruling AL abolished the provision in 2011, handing the job of overseeing polls to a reformed Election Commission.
The government has deployed thousands of police and paramilitary border guards in Dhaka, in the port city of Chittagong where the ruling party called a rival rally that was peaceful, and other potential flashpoints.
“We’ve sent BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) troops to 20 major cities and towns,” BGB director colonel Hafiz Ahsan told AFP.
Police said they fired rubber bullets in half a dozen other towns, leaving scores injured after the supporters of the AL party and the BNP clashed.
While the nation has a long history of political violence, this year has been the deadliest since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.
At least 150 people have been killed since January after a controversial court began handing down death sentences to Islamist leaders allied to ex-premier Zia.
- Five dead as 100,000 opposition supporters rally in Bangladesh (channelnewsasia.com)
- Bangladesh security officials clash with opposition supporters, killing 3, injuring dozens (vancouverdesi.com)
- Bangladesh Opposition Unveils Strike Plan (abcnews.go.com)
- Canadian, U.S. retailers sign Bangladesh factory-safety pact (cbc.ca)
- Canada shuts Bangladesh mission for Sunday (thedailystar.net)
- Canadian mission in Dhaka to close Sunday, says Foreign Ministry spokesman (vancouverdesi.com)
- Global terror alert: Canada to close Bangladesh mission Sunday (thestar.com)
- Protesters demand blasphemy law in Bangladesh (aljazeera.com)
- Bangladesh cracks down on protest group (aljazeera.com)
- Bangladesh protesters demand blasphemy law (aljazeera.com)
- Rioting and rubble: What’s behind the turbulent times in Bangladesh? – Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com)
- Bangladesh building collapse: anger amid desperate search for survivors – The Guardian (guardian.co.uk)
- Bangladesh building collapse kills more than 230; Joe Fresh clothing, other brands made at site (thestar.com)
- Deadly building collapse in Bangladesh (aljazeera.com)
- Dhaka collapse: Walmart and C and A implicated: nearly 1000 killed. more demos today. (thefreeonline.wordpress.com)
- Workers trapped inside collapsed building in Bangladesh plead for rescue; death toll hits 275 (vancouverdesi.com)
- Death toll rises to 275 in Bangladesh building collapse; workers trapped inside plead for help (vancouversun.com)
- Toll in Bangladesh building collapse climbs to 290 – Houston Chronicle (chron.com)
- Bangladesh garment workers protest building tragedy (jtn-network.com)
- Dhaka collapse: Walmart and C and A implicated: nearly 1000 killed. more demos today. (thefreeonline.wordpress.com)
- Bangladesh garment workers clash with police (aljazeera.com)
- Hundreds of thousands of Bangladesh’s garment workers walk out in protest over factory deaths (rawstory.com)
- Dhaka workers take to the streets after deadly Bangladesh building collapse – Telegraph.co.uk (telegraph.co.uk)
- Bangladesh police teargas building collapse protesters (straitstimes.com)
- Protests at building disaster as death toll rises (radionz.co.nz)
- Massive Protest in Bangladesh (laborstudiesqueens.wordpress.com)
- Police tear gas protesters in Bangladesh (news.com.au)