The Perilous Path of Journalism in Bangladesh
Sifat Kabir || risingbd.com
Over the years, Bangladesh has evolved into a hazardous terrain for journalism. Choosing this profession in the country is not just risky, but also fraught with danger.
According to the United Nations, “Journalism is one of the most dangerous professions in the world.” Journalists go out for exploring and making reports on what is happening. Unfortunately, this profession itself becomes stories of kidnapping, assault, and even murder.
The persistent issues of journalist killings and assaults have become a grim trend in Bangladesh since 1992. The oppression of journalists has escalated since 2004, as per available records.
Echoing a statement by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based international organization advocating for journalists' rights, said Bangladesh is perceived as a high-risk country for journalists.
According to CPJ, from 1992 to 2023, a total of 34 journalists were killed in Bangladesh. However, on June 15, 2023, a local correspondent for Banglanews24 was planned murdered in Jamalpur bringing the journalists' killing number to 35.
Yelp of the 35 slain journalists' family members today echoes into the ears of the countrymen.
Journalism is a noble occupation where economic fascination is just a mere dream. The slain journalists may have carried zero economic fascination or were fearless enough to not negotiate with the killers, which is why they had to skip this beautiful world.
The journalist killing mission in Bangladesh started with Mohammad Quamruzzaman, who was a Nilphamari-based journalist. He was a reporter for a local newspaper named 'Neel Sagar'. He was killed on February 19, 1996.
The murder of veteran journalist Manik Chandra Saha in January 2004 is an unsolved example of a journalist murder in Bangladesh.
Saha was a correspondent with the daily 'New Age' and a contributor to the BBC’s Bengali-language service. The assailants allegedly stopped his Rickshaw, a three-wheeler, while he was going to his home in Khulna city from Khulna Press Club and dropped a hand-made bomb on him.
After a lengthy investigation and trial, on November 30, 2016, nine of the 11 accused were sentenced to life imprisonment and another one year of imprisonment for non-payment of a fine of Tk10,000 each.
The journalist community protested, rejecting the verdict as too lenient. The death penalty had been widely expected and they demanded reinvestigation of the case.
Only five months later, yet another journalist, Humayun Kabir Balu, editor of the Bangla-language daily, Dainik Janmabhumi, was killed by another bomb attack in front of his office residence in Khulna.
Another journalist couple Sagar-Runi was brutally murdered in their rented apartment in West Rajabazar on 11 February 2012 is a mystery and remains unsolved. Court has deferred the deadline for submission of the probe report in the case for the 99th time.
Many cases of journalists' murders remained unsolved for decades, however. In 2000, Shamsur Rahman, a former special correspondent for the Daily Janakantha was killed by two armed men at his office in Jashore district of Bangladesh.
The dead journalist’s brother, Bokul told the media in 2021 that investigation into the case had not even begun yet despite it being overseen by the Speedy Trial Tribunal of Khulna.
A fact that needs to be taken into consideration is there is a lack of interest of the authorities concerned to solve journalist attacks, assaults, and murder issues. Politicians have several times actively played the blame game when it comes to condemning the murders of journalists, but have rarely taken action themselves once in power.
Journalism has become a challenging profession not just in Bangladesh, but globally. The recent murder of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, 2022, who worked for Al Jazeera for 25 years, still chills down the spine of the global journalist community. Shireen's murder has sparked widespread discussion, highlighting the increasing risks in journalism worldwide.
The question that lingers is: Is Bangladesh truly becoming a 'Red Zone' for journalists? The answer is something the journalist community of Bangladesh will have to determine in the days to come.
[The writer is a Journalist and Ph.D. candidate]