(Media Watch/IFEX) - The following is a joint action signed by twenty IFEX members, urging government and major party leaders in Bangladesh to take steps to guarantee journalists' security ahead of elections in the country:
APPEAL TO THE GOVERNMENT OF BANGLADESH AND POLITICAL LEADERS
The Bangladeshi journalists' community has known great difficulties over the last few years. Countrywide, attacks on journalists have become an everyday occurrence. Journalists' unions and other professional bodies have lodged protests against the attacks. Their demands for government action against the attackers have always gone unanswered. Seemingly nothing can stop the increased trend of harassment and physical assaults, even the killing, of journalists. Following constitutional provisions, a caretaker administration took over power on 15 July for three months. Its mandate is only to hold a free and fair election by October 2001. As the election date fast approaches, Bangladesh's journalists' community is greatly alarmed, apprehensive of a more violent situation. Following recent developments, journalists are more vulnerable to violence from political activists.
Normally in Bangladesh, during election periods, there are more political battles between political groups. Journalists' coverage of election campaigning is likely to dissatisfy all political groups and this will likely put journalists at greater risk. Journalists working in remote areas are especially vulnerable to attacks.
Reviewing the recent attacks, it was found that in most cases journalists were attacked either by the present ruling party, the Awami League, or the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Armed supporters of religious parties like Jammat-e-Islami or Islami Okkiya Jote and their student organisations were also involved in violent attacks on journalists. However, in some cases the journalists also came under attack from law enforcement agencies, including the police force. There is widespread apprehension in the country that this year's general election will be more violent then any previous elections. Every corner of society as well as law enforcement agencies and the Election Commission are fearful of bloody fights across the country.
As such, there is an urgent need to take proper security measures to protect the lives of journalists working in towns in the most remote places of the country.
We urge the President, the Chief of Advisor of the caretaker administration and the Chief Election Commissioner of the Bangladesh Election Commission to take the necessary steps to ensure the security of every journalist. We also appeal to all political parties to allow journalists to perform their professional duties safely. We urgently appeal to the leaders of all major political parties to instruct their supporters not to attack journalists, nor to harass, assault or otherwise target them.
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES), Nepal
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), USA
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Fédération professionnelle des journalistes du Québec (FPJQ)
Freedom House, USA
Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM)
Independent Journalism Center-Moldova (IJC)
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Journalists' Trade Union (JuHI), Azerbaijan
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Watch, Bangladesh
Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression (NFFE)
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), USA
Thai Journalists Association (TJA)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC), International PEN
Twenty IFEX members sign appeal urging Bangladeshi leaders to take steps to ensure the security of journalists ahead of elections