Thursday, August 30, 2007

Government urged to lift censorship

Government urged to lift censorship and guarantee journalists’ safety
August 29, 2007
Source: Reporters Without Borders Press Release

Reporters Without Borders today called on the interim government and army to quickly rescind all the repressive measures of recent days, during which the imposition of a curfew from 22 August until yesterday severely impacted the ability of journalists to work.

"The interim government’s record has been badly marred by the censorship and violence that has assailed the press since the start of the student protests in Dhaka and other major cities," the press freedom organisation said.

"We note law and information adviser Mainul Hosein’s meeting with media executives on 27 August, and the interior minister’s apologies for the many acts of violence against journalists," Reporters Without Borders added. "The government should now, as a matter of urgency, heed the media’s requests for more freedom and for guarantees of security for journalists."

The army took to the streets to enforce the curfew that was imposed from 22 August until yesterday following major demonstrations in Dhaka University. The population was forced to stay at home and mobile phone services were interrupted for several days.

The government has been trying to impose censorship and self-censorship on the media since the start of the pro-democracy demonstrations. Hosein, the government’s law and information adviser, urged the media several times not to exaggerate the protests. When the TV stations stopped showing footage of the demonstrations on the evening of 22 August, Hosein told the media that the government did not want to "impose censorship."

The curfew made it impossible for journalists to work. The security forces refused to treat a press card as a laissez-passer although the government news agency, BSS, had said journalists with press cards would be able to move freely. Dozens of journalists were attacked by policemen or soldiers and the publication of newspapers was badly disrupted.

Anis Alamgir, head of news of privately-owned Baishakhi TV, was beaten by soldiers on the evening of 22 August, a few hours after the curfew went into effect. He collapsed, injured, in the street and was taken to a Dhaka police station before being released. "I was above all shocked to find myself being beaten by an officer in uniform," he told Reporters Without Borders.

Nesar Uddin Ahmed of the daily newspaper Amar Desh was attacked by members of an elite police unit as he was returning to his home in the capital. A photographer with the daily Dinkal was badly injured by members of the security forces and had to hospitalized. One newspaper, Samakal, reported that 14 of its journalists were beaten by soldiers or police.

At least 15 journalists were arrested by the police for curfew violations on 22 August alone. Most of them were released on bail. Reporters Without Borders is currently trying to establish whether any journalists and media workers are still detained.

The government’s Press Information Department reiterated on 23 August that press cards would be treated as curfew passes. But in practice, journalists were unable to resume working freely until the curfew was lifted, first partially and then totally.

Governmental censorship concentrated on the TV stations. CSB TV and Ekushey TV received a Press Information Department order on 23 August not to broadcast "provocative" reports and comments. Employees of several TV stations told Reporters Without Borders that military intelligence officers called the stations to threaten them with prosecution on various charges including violating of the section 5 of the State of Emergency Regulations, for broadcasting critical reports or eye witness accounts of the demonstrations. The TV stations also had to suspend all their political programmes.

"The ban on talk shows is a big trouble," an ATN Bangla head of news said. Journalist Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul said: "As parliament is not there, television talk shows about politics and society are the best way for the people to comment on official decisions."

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