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Mar 10

Towards BAKSHAL: The Dwindling Freedom of Press in Bangladesh

The recent unrest in Bangladesh in which more than a hundred people have been killed over the short span of less than two weeks has also witnessed the decimation of another typical victim, the press. Journalists have been shot at by police on the 22nd of February while covering the protests. They have been humiliated; have had their freedoms curbed and have also being subject to calculated attacks by ruling party men and even security forces. Police have seldom thought twice before attacking journalists and stories of arrested and detained journalists have graced the headlines more often than not.
Let us explore some recent events.
  
Two journalists from natunbarta were arrested at Shahbag last Friday, the 8th of March. They were arrested by police from Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University on Friday evening. Natunbarta immediately published a report on its site clarifying the event, saying that one of its reporters, Kazi Mostafiz, went to the fifth floor of the university along with many others in order to inspect the alleged site where two cocktails were supposedly thrown behind the Shahbag podium at approximately 4:50 in the evening. Afterwards, police sealed the exit and arrested some people including the reporter, who was not allowed to exit the premises even after showing his identification papers. Another natunbarta journalist, Emdadul Haque, who went to inquire about the arrested journalist was arrested as well. Although Emdadul, the latter, was released subsequently by police on Saturday night, Kazi Mostafiz was taken on a two day remand by police while shown arrested in a case which was filed 16 days before his arrest.
Again on Friday the 8th of March, the Daily Sangram Kurigram district representative was abducted by unidentified youth after Friday prayers from the district vocational area and handed over to police, who then arrested him.
Previously, five journalists were arrested from the premises of the Daily Sangram’s office on 4th March by the Detective Branch of police after an unwarranted search operation at midnight. All five were subsequently released a day later.
This selective repression of journalists on ground has been supplemented by digital repression of online news media by government regulatory bodies. Bdnews reported that speaking to press on Feb 28, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu alleged the daily Amar Desh, Daily Naya Diganta and Daily Sangram had started ‘militant journalism’ following the Shahbagh demonstration. In light of the government drive to limit free speech, bdnews24 further reported that the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) closed 12 blogs and Facebook pages, including ‘Sonar Bangla’ and ‘Basher Kella’, reportedly run by people tied to the Jamaat-e-Islami and its student wing. Daily Amar Desh, run by Mahmudur Rahman, a former advisor to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, on Saturday published a report saying readers were facing troubles in reading its online edition. Many online readers have reported problems in accessing the website from Bangladesh over the past few days. The BTRC has denied any involvement, saying this ‘may’ have occurred due to ‘technical glitches’.
On the other hand, media reporting in line with the rhetoric of the government have been allowed to flourish and have been encouraged by all manner of government affiliated stooges. Not only have such media been instrumental in adding fuel to the toxic political culture; they have also flourished, living off the police state, by keeping up the stream of yellow journalism. Simple recent examples of such yellow journalism would be the deliberate distortion of facts by the Daily star in naming and shaming opposition affiliated facebook pages such as Basherkella and sleazy practices by news agencies such as bdnews in flipping online polls and using them to make exaggerated implications to further their very own vested propaganda.
As the country progresses day by day towards more heinous forms of press censorship, all that is left to be asked is: 
Just how close are we to that digital BAKSHAL ?