Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of the stabbing deaths of two journalists in Dhaka – among 22 killings of Bangladeshi reporters that remain unsolved over two decades – as the local press demands answers and justice for their slain colleagues.
Police still have not revealed a motive or released an investigation report into the Feb. 11, 2012, killings of husband and wife Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi although six suspects have been in custody for at least four years without charges filed against them in the case.
“At this moment, I have no knowledge on progress of the investigation,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told journalists on Thursday.
Those in custody have been identified as Enam Ahmed (alias Humayun Kabir), a guard who worked in the apartment building where Sarowar and Runi were killed; Rafiqul Islam, Bakul Mia, Mintu (alias Masum Mintu), Kamrul Hasan Arun and Abu Sayeed.
Two others, Tanvir Rahman and apartment guard Palash Rudra Paul have been released on bail. Ahmed was arrested Feb. 9, 2013, while the others were arrested in October 2012.
Judges have extended the deadline 48 times – most recently on Wednesday – for submitting an investigation report, but lead investigators for Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) failed to produce a final report, angering the journalism community and others.
The Bangladesh Federal Journalists Union, Dhaka Journalists Union, Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) and other groups have been calling for authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“We will be continuing the protest until the trial of the killers is done,” Sakhawat Hossain Badasha, president of DRU, told BenarNews.
‘The case has been dumped’
On the morning of Feb. 11, 2012, Sagar, the news editor of the Maasranga TV station, and Runi, a senior correspondent at TV station ATN Bangla, were found dead inside their fourth floor apartment in the West Rajabazar neighborhood of Dhaka.
Their 6-year-old son, Mahir Sarwar Megh, was found unhurt.
In November 2012, international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) questioned why RAB interrogated the couple’s son for hours months after their deaths, citing concerns that such interrogation could cause psychological and physical harm.
On the day of the killings, then-Home Minister Shahara Khatun told reporters that the killers would be arrested within 48 hours. While the six suspects have been jailed for at least four years, RAB investigators have not identified the killers or their motives.
“The case has been dumped in a planned way,” Runi’s brother, Nawsher Ali Roman, told BenarNews. “They just suggest we have patience.”
During a court appearance on Wednesday, investigating officer and RAB assistant director Wares Ali Mia failed to produce information regarding progress during a court appearance.
Metropolitan Magistrate Judge Mazharul Islam granted another six weeks for RAB to submit a report on progress, ordering investigators to appear on March 21.
In the past, High Court and magistrate court judges have expressed anger at the investigation’s slow pace.
22 unsolved killings
The couple is among 22 journalists killed in Bangladesh since 1996.
The list of others include Mohammad Kamaruzzaman, Saiful Alam Mukul, Mir Eias Hossain, Shamsur Rahman, Nahor Ali, Harunur Rashid, Shukur Hossain, Syed Faruq Ahmed, Manik Saha, Humayun Kabir, Kamal Hossain, Dipankar Chakravarty, Shahid Anwar, Sheikh Belal Uddin, Golam Mahfuz, Gautam Das, Belal Hossain Dafadar, Jamal Uddin, Talhad Ahmed Kabid and Sadrul Alam.
“Many journalists were killed in the last decade, but there have been no trials against their killers,” Omor Faruk, president of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, told BenarNews.
Last week in Sirajganj district, a correspondent for the Bangla daily Samakal, Abdul Hakim Shimul, was shot and killed by the local mayor. Investigators have said it is unclear whether Shimul was targeted or killed by accident during a confrontation between opposing political groups, according to reports.
Faruk demanded a trial for Shimul’s killer.
Perils of the job
Reporters Without Border last year spoke out about the dangers faced by Bangladeshi journalists.
“In Bangladesh, it is a bad idea to criticize the constitution or Islam, the state religion. Journalists and bloggers who refuse to submit to censorship or to censor themselves on these subjects risk life imprisonment or the death penalty,” RSF said while releasing its press freedom report in April 2016.
“Outspoken secularists are also targeted by Islamist militants. The media are nonetheless quite diverse and fairly outspoken on less sensitive issues,” it said.