A Journalist’s Tale

[Cross posted at E-Bangladesh]

[Reports on the latest situation on Bangladesh from Rezwan.]

After declaring a curfew on Wednesday, the Bangladesh military began to systematically target journalists for beating and intimidation.  

The Committee to Protect Journalists has protested the treatment of journalists by the Bangladesh military:
Committee to Protect Journalists is dismayed by reports of the assault, detention, and harassment of local journalists by security forces attempting to enforce the indefinite curfew imposed yesterday on the capital, Dhaka, and five other cities in response to growing unrest across the country. CPJ is also deeply concerned about warnings to the media from members of the interim government and from the military that have resulted in widespread self-censorship, particularly among broadcast outlets.  
On Wednesday, the military-backed interim government announced an indefinite curfew in six urban centers that had been the scene of violent clashes between police and students calling for an end to emergency rule. Though officials had provided assurances that the media could operate freely during curfew hours without carrying special passes, dozens of journalists were assaulted and detained by members of the security forces in the course of their reporting, according to local news reports and CPJ sources.
“The political crisis will only be exacerbated by attempts to suppress news and opinion,” said Simon. “This government must not abuse the extraordinary powers it has under the state of emergency to keep the public in the dark.”
One of the journalists that were detained, Biplob Rahman of BDNews24.com, has posted about his experience in the Bengali language blog "somewhere in…"
Below is an English language translation of his post:
1. Wednesday evening at eight thirty. Curfew just started. On Dhanmondi Road #27, in front of my office at BDNews24.com, two of my colleagues, Pervez and Liton, were standing and surveying the curfew situation. Since the [government] press note had stated that a press ID card could be used as a curfew pass, everyone was wearing their ID cards that evening.
Before anyone could understand what was going on, two army jeeps screeched to a halt in front of the office. Five to seven soldiers leapt out. Lenin lifted his ID card and only managed to say, “BDNews…” The soldiers responded “So what!” Then began the indiscriminate beating with rifle butts.
I was busy writing the last update about Mirpur College. The previous night’s night duty, Wednesday’s all day coverage of Mirpur Bangla College and reporting from the spot of Agargaon Agricultural University’s student and citizen’s protest had left me exhausted. My typing speed was slowing down more and more…
An office clerk ran into the newsroom with the news that Pervez and Lenin were being beaten. Everyone dropped their work and ran downstairs to investigate. Since the elevator was taking too long I made my way down the stairs. On the second flood landing I found Lenin gasping for air. Another colleague was trying to help him. I asked him, “Where is Pervez?” Lenin shook his head, he didn’t know.
Not finding Pervez on the first floor, I ran back up the stairs. When I reached the newsroom floor I saw that the elevator door was open. Pervez’s large stocky body was covered in sweat; he was having trouble breathing even with his mouth open. I tried to pull him out of the elevator by his arms, but I couldn’t. Two other colleagues helped me pull him out.
We carried Pervez and laid him on the sofa at the front desk. Finding University reporter Tanvi close, I asked her to please run and get some water for Pervez. I felt that he would get better if he was able to rest.
Without wasting time I selfishly tried to finish work on my news update…in it I included a small item about the assault on Pervez and Lenin by the soldiers.
2. There is much discussion amongst the journalists in the office about the press note instructions that stated that press ID can be used as a curfew pass. A number of reporters think that the assault on Pervez and Lenin may be unrelated. Some soldiers may have gotten a little overzealous and done this.
Even so the office PBX telephone becomes busy as reporters seek assurance that a press ID is sufficient as a curfew pass. The cell phones have been shut down since 7 in the evening. Only calls from CityCell to CityCell are going through. Still the network wasn’t up all the time.
I personally spoke with the police control room duty officer. He told me that they have not yet issued any curfew passes. I informed my bosses about this. They told me that during 11/1/2007 the press did not need curfew passes. Curfew passes will not be required this time either. Besides this issue is clearly spelled out in the press note.
3. After all of this at around 9 pm, I and two other colleagues, Liton and Rommo, leave the office for home on an office-owned CNG auto-rickshaw. All three of us live in Mohammadpur. Before leaving we ensure that everyone has their press ID and that the red PRESS sticker is displayed on the front of the auto-rickshaw. We repeatedly tell the auto-rickshaw driver that if someone signals us to stop, that he stop immediately, and to drive slowly.
At the corner of the Shankar bus stand three green-colored and open-topped army jeeps emerged from the dark. With their headlights on and at high speed the three jeeps quickly surrounded our small transport. Soldiers rush out with weapons raised, and they pull us out by our shirt collars. They scream as they are pulling us out, “Stop! Get the bastards! Where are you sons of bitches going?”
The leader is a young Captain, whose gold-rimmed glasses glimmer from the light of the street lamps. He is not wearing a name tag.
I lift my ID that is hanging around my neck and say, “Journalist. Please!…”
The captain yells back, “’Please’ what? What does ‘please’ mean?”
I say, “’Please’ means, please tell your soldiers to stop manhandling us. We are journalists.”
“Do you have a curfew pass?”
“No. Press note said press ID is sufficient. Curfew pass is not needed.”
“We haven’t received the press note. Get in the jeep!”
At his signal, the soldiers grabbed us by our collars and put us in the jeep. In the meantime a few other soldiers beat a few pedestrians with rifle butts and batons and put them in the jeeps. When some of them took too much time getting in the jeeps they were kicked by the soldiers.
The jeep starts to travel toward the army camp near Mohammadpur Medical College. I recall that this is where the Pakistani army and their collaborators, Al Badr, Al Shams and Rajakars, set up their camp in 1971.
4. After only traveling a little distance a soldier from the jeep signaled a motorcycle rider to stop. The motorcycle rider failed to stop immediately and was chased by the jeep and forced to stop. The soldiers jump out of the jeeps. One group stays behind to guard us. The remainder split up into two groups and surround the motorcycle rider. One group starts to dismantle his motorcycle with their rifles. The other group throws the motorcycle rider to the ground and starts to beat him with the butts of their rifles, with batons and with their boots.
The old man did not get the chance to display his ID card. He just kept screaming in pain, “Don’t hit me! Journalist! Journalist!”
In the quiet of the night, except the sound of pounding of flesh and the movement of the soldiers, it was as if all of the world was frozen still like a frame from a movie. Within an instant that reporter had been turned into a pile of flattened flesh. Then he was picked up and taken away. His motorcycle, which was now a heap of metal, was being pushed away by a few soldiers. And the whole operation was carried out under the command of the gold-rimmed Captain.
At this point he said, “You three reporters, come down. The Major is coming.”
The dark and unnamed Major seemed tense and tired. After hearing everything, he said “You see the fate of that journalist. Compared to him, nothing has happened to you.” After noticing the bag on my shoulder, the Major said, “Do you have a camera with you? You haven’t taken a picture, have you?” I inform him that there is nothing in the bag except some important documents and pens. The Major ordered that everyone should be taken to the Mohammadpur police station.
We whisper to each other that at least we won’t be beaten at the police station. If we had been sent to the army camp, it was a certainty that we would get some broken bones.
At the Mohammadpur police station I met some other media journalists and colleagues. Amongst them, the condition of Anis Alamgir, the head of news at Boishaki Television, is dire. The soldiers used wooden bats to beat him mercilessly on both legs. His thick jeans pants were ripped here and there. The OC [officer-in-charge] at the police station had given him a few pain killer tablets. Anis is sitting there with the medicine in his palms, afraid to take them on an empty stomach.
A number of other journalists continue to be picked up for not having curfew passes. Because the OC’s office was filling up some of us were moved to the second officer’s office. When I saw that there was a landline phone there, I got to it first and called the chief reporter at my office and quickly relayed to him our experiences. I told him to immediately publish this news on BDNews24.com. Shortly thereafter we saw on the little television in the room that two or three television channels were reporting on our detention and beatings. I realized that my phone call had worked.
After realizing what had happened, the second officer disconnected the phone and locked it in his desk drawer. It was from him that we heard that the reporter that the soldiers had beaten on the street worked for a weekly magazine. He was admitted in critical condition to Dhaka Medical College Hospital. His bike was brought to the police station. Discussing his predicament the second officer said to us, “Brother, the OC is discussing your situation with the DC-SP. However, they are not being able make a decision.”
5. At around 10 at night the names of the detained journalists were written in the register at the police station. The Major and Captain returned to the police station and yelled at the OC, “Why are these people in your room? Are they your guests or are they detainees? If they are detainees, immediately grab them by the neck and throw them in the lock-up!” The OC could only respond, “Sir, Sir.” One by one our names were called and we were put in the lock-up.
I felt sick from the heat and the stench of sweat in the lock-up cell. In the meantime, the journalists started to take stock of how many cigarettes we had amongst ourselves. Because this was going to be a whole night affair. All the stores were closed due to curfew; we would not be able to give money to the police to buy cigarettes. We collectively decide that if anyone lights a cigarette, he can’t smoke it alone, he must share it with everyone; brand is not an issue.
Anis, who had covered the Iraq War, to calm everyone’s nerves, said, “We had not yet experienced jail time, but now we’re getting our chance. What do you guys think!” Everyone laughed and agreed. Rommo tried to sing a song, and I find myself in a jail cell…
Around 12 am a SI came in and said, “Good news. You will be released shortly!”
After a few minutes one by one our names were called, matched with our ID cards, and we were released by some soldiers. We three journalists who live in Mohammadpur started toward home. Rommo has a landline phone in his house. We decide that when he gets home he will call the office and inform them that we had been released.
*Note: To all fellow bloggers who have written and protested about our detention and treatment, I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude through this post.
This entry was posted in Bangladesh, Human Rights, Media, Torture. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Journalist’s Tale

  1. AsifY says:

    I saw the Bangla story in the morning. I decided not to read it then. I knew what I would find, and why ruin my mornng like that?

    Thanks for the translation. In conclusion, I’ll say something that might get drowned elsewhere: no one wants to see the kind of mob violence and destruction we had to witness over the last few days. If anyone thinks that arresting journalists was the right move, then they’ve got another thought coming. Like prescribing a heart transplant for a case of depression!

  2. Mash says:

    AsifY, I didnt realize how difficult it is to translate from Bengali to English! I tried to do a sentence-to-sentence translation and I hope I didnt misrepresent much. If there is something I should change, let me know.

    The hardest phrases to translate were the curse words. I translated “shala” to “bastard” because the literal translation “brother-in-law” doesnt quite get the meaning across. I translated “shuorer bachcha” to “son of a bitch” because the literal “son of a pig” is kind of comical in English! :d

    Repression and violent protests go hand in hand. Further repression, it seems to me, will only lead to more civil unrest. This rioting exposed the simmering frustrations of the general populace at the lack of freedoms and the increasingly spiraling prices. Yet the military government and the Chief Advisor reacted according to script of autocratic regimes – they tried to shoot the messengers.

    Its sad and I hope good sense prevails. The only viable way out is quick elections. The other alternatives are ugly. I wrote the following possible roadmap in a comment at Shadakalo:

    1) lift ban on politics
    2) move trials to regular courts and give bail to those held on bailable charges
    3) begin consultation with EC and political parties
    4) announce early poll schedule (and scrap the voter id card and national id plan until after elections)
    4) lift state of emergency
    5) hold elections
    6) hand over power

    However, the default behavior will be more repression. So, the odds of the above are small, but not yet zero.

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