Bangladeshi journalists took to the streets Monday to condemn a brutal attack on a former newspaper editor as he was being released on bail in a defamation case, in which he allegedly insulted the prime minister and her late father.
Mahmudur Rahman, 66, was getting into a car on Sunday when activists from the ruling party’s student wing attacked him upon his release from jail in the western town of Kushtia, according to the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) and the Dhaka Union of Journalists (DUJ).
Rahman’s photographs, which were widely distributed on social media, showed him with blood trickling down his face, and his long-sleeve shirt stained with blood while he was walking with police officers.
Obaidul Quader, the road transport minister, described the assault as “undesirable” and said the attackers should be brought to justice.
“Dissents are usual in politics and journalism,” Quader told reporters in Dhaka. “We do not support an attack of this sort.”
He said no ruling party leader backed the attackers.
“Those who carried out the attack were miscreants using the name of Chhatra League,” he said, using the name for the Awami League party’s student wing.
Rahman was the editor of the pro-opposition daily Amar Desh, which was shut down by Hasina’s government in 2013 for allegedly inciting religious tension.
Yasir Arafat, president of Kushtia unit of Bangladesh Chhatra League, denied in his Facebook post that his group was involved in the attack.
“No activist of Chhatra League was present at the court premises at the time of the attack in the afternoon,” he said.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary-general of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), joined the rally in front of the National Press Club and alleged that police officers turned a blind eye while Rahman was being attacked.
The officer-in-charge of police in Kushtia, Nasir Uddin, denied the allegations. But police confirmed the attack on Rahman was carried out by student activists with the ruling party, according to Agence France-Presse.
Witnesses and Rahman’s colleagues said one of the attackers assaulted the newspaperman using a brick.
Troubles with the law
Rahman spent six months in jail in 2010 for contempt of court. He was arrested again on April 11, 2013 and later on the police padlocked his newspaper after accusing him of sedition. He was released in November 2016.
In December last year, a Chhatra League leader filed a defamation case against Rahman for allegedly defaming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her late father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh.
“I think, the ruling party supporters, Chhatra League, staged a nasty show by attacking Mahmudur Rahman. Such type of attack is not possible without government blessing,” Zafrullah Chowdhury, a pro BNP political commentator, told BenarNews.
“The government is making mistakes,” he said. “This will be counter-productive for the government.”
Prior to the attack, Alamgir, the BNP secretary-general, said he had telephoned the home minister, seeking protection for Rahman.
“He (the minister) assured me of taking necessary measures,” he said during the rally. “This is an unprecedented incident in recent times.”
“The Awami League government continues to attack freedom of expression and thinking,” he said.
In April 2016, Bangladesh police arrested an opposition-backed editor on charges of conspiring to kill Hasina’s son.
Police arrested Shafik Rehman, 81, at his home in Dhaka based on evidence provided by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), according to Sajeeb Wazed Joy, who said he was the target of the plot.
Rehman was editor of Mouchake Dhil, a pro-opposition political magazine.
Three people were arrested in the United States in connection with that plot, according to a DOJ statement from September 2015.
At that time, police submitted a petition in court seeking permission to implicate Mahmudur Rahman in the conspiracy case.
Rahman, a former state minister of the BNP government, was then already in jail for a corruption case.
Shafik Rehman and Mahmudur Rahman met with conspirators in the United States to discuss the plot, Monirul Islam, who was then deputy inspector-general of police, told reporters in Dhaka.