Thursday, August 9, 2018
For over a week, tens of thousands of students have protested in the streets of Dhaka, calling attention to the lack of road safety. The catalyst for the protests was a traffic accident in which two young schoolchildren were killed. The police are cracking-down on the protests, dispersing demonstrators with rubber bullets and tear gas. Gangs, that are said to be pro-government, are helping the police. There are reports of more than 150 wounded, and an unknown number of demonstrators have been arrested.

Journalists covering the protests are suffering abuse, and are being chased away by groups armed with machetes and iron bars. Their equipment is being destroyed, or they are forced to erase their recordings. Eyewitnesses report that the police do nothing but stand by and watch. A group of about twenty journalists and photographers were beaten up last Sunday, while they were doing their job.

Shahidul Alam

One of those journalists is photographer Shahidul Alam. He is internationally renown and has published in Time, The New York Times and National Geographic. He posted the story of the abuse on Facebook. On Sunday he did an interview for Al Jazeera, in which he criticized the violent police crack down. He was arrested the same evening, and accused of ‘sharing false information' and making 'provocative statements'. On Monday, Alam was brought before the court. Witnesses stated that he could not walk independently and that it seemed as if he had been tortured.

Restrictive policies

Free Press Unlimited is concerned about the increased violence against media professionals. Since 2016, Bangladeshi authorities have initiated legal action against media professionals under restrictive laws, such as the Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Action,  and have restricted access to news websites criticizing the government. This has cultivated an environment in which it becomes increasingly difficult for media professionals to do their work.

Safe environment for journalists needed

Free Press Unlimited urges the Bangladeshi authorities to end the crackdown on student protesters and media professionals, to adhere to its international obligations and to promote an environment in which media professionals are protected and people responsible for attacks held to be account.  Free Press Unlimited continues to monitor the situation in Bangladesh via its Reporters Respond Emergency Program.