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Sunday, October 25, 2009

[mukto-mona] Assault on media hinders democracy [1 Attachment]

[Attachment(s) from Ripan Biswas included below]

Dear Editor,
Hope you are doing well and thanks for publishing my previous write ups.
This is an article titled "Assault on media hinders democracy". I will be highly honoured if you publish this article. I apprecite your time to read this article.
Have a nice time
With Best Regards
Ripan Kumar Biswas
New York, U.S.A
Assault on media hinders democracy
Ripan Kumar Biswas
Bangladesh's notorious anti-crime force, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in a continuous assault beat a newsman of a Dhaka based national English daily newspaper with truncheons and rubbed salt into the wounds and tried to identify him as a drugs dealer keeping him in detention for around 12 hours.
FM Masum, a journalist of the daily New Age, was picked up from his rented house in Jatrabari, Dhaka by some RAB officials on October 22, 2009 and was brought to the RAB 10 headquarters where he was blindfolded and his hands were tied and was repeatedly beaten and in addition, was also threatened by the battalion officers to be killed in "crossfire." The whole assault was believably staged as Masum wrote several reports about this paramilitary unit including on its involvement in extrajudicial killings such as death in crossfire or encounter and also on illicit trading of drug substances. The agitation even went further when RAB officials realized who he was and that he worked for the newspaper. They planted six bottles of banned Phensidyl cough syrups on Masum's bed and later retrieved them, they alleged.
However, in a dramatic movement resulting from the direct intervention by the home minister and secretary, countrywide protest by the all news media, and protests by the teachers, students and officials of different institutions and organizations including Dhaka University and enlightened citizenry, victim reporter was released on an undertaking saying that he was in good health when released. Moreover, the anticrime force offered a sincere apology to the victim including others stating that it was a mistake and an untoward incident had taken place while the force were in an anti-drug drive near the victim's residential area. The statement, in addition, included a formation of a committee to probe the incident and a discharging order against the main perpetrator flight lieutenant Anisur Rahman.
So far so good from the government side but the question-- where is the sign of the country's new government's commitment to exercise the rule of law, human rights, and democratic principles and its promise that it will put an end to any abuses or extrajudicial executions by any security forces including the RAB as it has already earned a bad name for its so-called cross-fire deaths. The recent assault on a reporter as according to the RAB officials is a mistake, is simply carrying things too far, clearly beyond the law and a fundamental attack on the free press.
As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights treaties, Bangladesh is obliged to investigate thoroughly and promptly serious violations of human rights, prosecute the perpetrators in accordance with international fair-trial standards, and appropriately punish them if their guilt is established. But Bangladeshi governments since independence in 1971 have been unwilling to prosecute and punish state officers responsible for grave human rights violations. The problem is one of both law and practice. While a prompt and effective step are always expected to stop any attempts that go beyond law, one of the senior minister of the Sheikh Hasina's cabinet, Shahjahan Khan upheld the necessity of extrajudicial attempts by the security forces like RAB in an interview at the BBC's Bangladesh Sanglap at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre on October 3,  2009.
In response to the persecution of the journalist, leader of the opposition of the parliament Khaleda Zia criticized the government. "The country has reached such a dire position that journalists are also falling victim to torture," she said while her government formed this anti-crime unit and frequently used it according to their need.
The United Kingdom and the United States have over the past year provided training to RAB in the stated hope that the force will improve its human rights record and eventually become a more effective counterterrorism outfit. But since RAB was established in mid-2004, its members have killed more than 500 people in what it usually refers to as "crossfire" or "encounter "killings or "shootouts." At least 50 journalists were tortured by RAB since 2004.
The challenge of pluralism in Bangladesh is enormous and the gap between the fundamental rights promised in the country's constitution and the banality of freedom of speech is now the latest experience in Bangladesh. According to the article 35(b), Part-III of the constitution of Bangladesh, freedom of the press is guaranteed. Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which asserts "freedom of expression is a fundamental human right" clearly indicates that press freedom and freedom of information are the basic principles for good governance, development, and peace.
The media is an essential component of a democratic society as access to a free, independent and pluralistic media is essential for gaining awareness of the issues that matter, both nationally and internationally. There is no doubt to say that only and one achievement of democracy in Bangladesh is its press. Although journalists are targeted by Islamist and Maoist groups, as well as officials and politicians, it was the press which figured out the Islamic militants in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh government and its intelligence agencies very often threaten, intimidate, and intervene journalists and editors for the reports that go against them. Journalists are detained for their reports about the random arbitrary arrests, torture, ill-treatment, detention, physical disabilities, psychological fear and panic, deaths in custody, deprivation of medical treatment, distortion and destruction of medico-legal evidences, concealment of the truth regarding cases of custodial torture, extreme suppression of the freedom of expression and absolute injustice to the victims by the administration of Bangladesh.
But the joint product of the law enforcement agencies and journalistic collaborations and a better understanding between the two would result in improved synergy. Despite the media's focus on law enforcement agencies deviance, on many levels the relationship is symbiotic rather than antagonistic. The news media feeds the public a daily dose of crime stories. On these stories, law enforcement agencies serve as major news sources, sometimes the only news source. The media acts as a bridge between the people and the law enforcing agencies and therefore these two components have to work in tandem to reach out to the people's aspirations, especially in troubled times.
In a democracy, the role of the press is two-fold: to inform the public and, more importantly, to act as a watchdog on government activities. There should be a very delicate balance to be struck between, on the one hand, the needs of the government to ensure the security and peace of the state and, on the other hand, the needs of the media to be free, open and capable of criticizing the government. Curving the freedom of press is an obstacle to democracy and it damages the national image.
As a commitment to remove all obstacles to press freedom, improve the conditions for independent and professional journalism, and to empower citizens to engage in public debate, no one should restrict or attack the freedom of the press or compromise the right of the news media to gather, produce, and disseminate information in secure and safe conditions.

Monday, October 26, 2009, New York
Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York

Attachment(s) from Ripan Biswas

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