DESPITE the fact that women and their activities are integral parts of the development of a country, the state of women and children in the country has always taken a backseat, preceded by the ‘more important’ issues of political power and things related to its misuse – including ‘tit for tat’ criminal cases. One forgets that vital issues of economic stability, development and education all directly involve women’s participation and to ensure their safety and safeguard their rights as citizens of Bangladesh is vital to the country’s being. Apart from empty promises, which are a mandatory part of election manifestos, the lot of women is, for the most part, monitored by non-government organisations and women’s groups.
Given below is a brief description of various issues of various aspects of violence against women, in 2001, as documented by Odhikar, a human rights organisation. The organisation basically deals with monitoring, documenting and investigting violations to the civil and political rights of the citizens of Bangladesh, and thus has limited topics on women’s rights. However, it recognises the importance of highlighting these rights and their violations, as they are some of the most common forms of violence against women.Rape: Incidents of rape in Bangladesh can be counted in the hundreds every year. Only a fraction of the incidents are reported in the newspapers, as prevailing social norms dictate that the subject remains taboo. Unfortunately, society should wake up to the fact that the more rapists apprehended and punished, the safer society. In small areas of the country, the criminal is general recognised by his victim, but corrupt police, negligent doctors and vested interest groups almost always manage to keep the incident under wraps. During the year 2001, Odhikar documented 765 reported incidents of rape – where 138 of the victims were children, 8 women were raped by law enforcing agents and 4 women were from the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
Acid Throwing: Acid throwing has become an effective method of revenge and vengeance in Bangladesh today. It is so popular, that even men are now becoming victims. Cases of acid throwing occur over land disputes, political rivalry spurned affections and proposals of marriage and jilted affairs. Children are also sometimes caught in the crossfire, usually because they are with the adult victim at the time of the incident. In 2001, Odhikar documented 206 incidents of acid throwing where 33 of the victims were children.
Dowry related violence: Despite laws banning the practice, social and traditional norm helps families decide to demand and give dowry. According to the Dowry Prohibition Act, both giving and receiving dowry is a punishable offence. Like rape, dowry related violence is helped by ‘society’ and members of it who demand that dowry be given or voluntarily give dowry. In rural Bangladesh – and even in families in the urban areas, incessant demands for dowry after marriage cumulate in both mental and physical torture and even in murder. There were 163 reported cases of dowry related violence in 2001, where 6 women were killed.
Women in Prison: As part of Odhikar’s current investigation work, the organisation has investigated the condition of female inmates in Dhaka, Jessore, Rajshashi and Comilla Central Jails. Needless to say, female prisoners are among the most neglected group of people in Bangladesh. The conditions in the jail cells were deplorable. There was only one toilet in the grossly overcrowded cells and that was in an unhygienic condition due to excessive use. The food given was little in quantity and very poor in quality. Norms laid down in the Jail Code were not adhered to and there was hardly any medical treatment for female inmates – and none at all for the pregnant women. In October 2001, alone there were 248 female inmates in Dhaka Central Jail (actual capacity 84), 77 in Comilla Central Jail (actual capacity 22); 105 in Rajshahi Central Jail (actual capacity 41) and 139 in Jessore Central Jail (actual capacity 45).
Corruption, vested interest, non-implementation of existing laws and family pressure and the fear of social ostracisation all contribute to acts of violence against women. Certain social values need to change and effective measures taken to ensure that the rights of women are safeguarded and that perpetrators get their just desserts.Prepared for Odhikar by Saira Rahman Khan.
Odhikar Report The state of Freedom of Expression: 2001"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinion without interference and to seek, receive and import inhumation and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." -Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Although freedom of expression is a fundamental and basic human right of every human being. But by profession journalist exercise this basic right for the well being of people, nation and also for mankind. This make them targets of people who may not like what they say or do. It may happen in the case of government. Basically in the illiberal democracy and autocratic regime journalist become target of state and ruling party. So freedom of expression now become on of the parameter of liberal democracy and good governance. To protect the journalist from this target International Covenant on Civil and Political rights states in its Article 19.
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinion without inference.2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expressions; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and import inhumation and ideas of all kind regardless of frontiers either orally; in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of choice.
Last year was very significant for media people. We experienced three government in this year (1) Awami League government under the leadership of Shiekh Hasina (2) Non party Caretaker Government headed by former Chief Justice Latifur Rahman (3) Newly elected 4 party alliance government under the leadership of BNP Chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia. So to the journalist it was very much empirical, on the other hand experimental to understanding the limit of real freedom of expression and tolerance level of each government. Year of attacks on journalistAccording to Odhikar documentation, 87 major incidents of violence against journalist had been reported. Of this number, 48 incidents were organized during the Awami League regime, i.e., till 15 July 2001. Of this 48, 1 journalist was killed and 67 injured. Other incidents of violence included kidnapping, attack on the newspaper offices, attempts to murder, setting fire to homes and attacks on local press clubs by police.During the tenure of Caretaker Government, a total of 16 incidents of violence against journalist were reported, where 1 journalist was killed and 16 injured.
After the 4-party alliance came to power after October 10, 2001 the total number of incidents of violence against journalists was reported to be 23, where 30 person were injured.
Apart from these incidents, various forms of intimidation on the free flow of information were also evident.Given below are some of the reported incidents of violence against journalists – murder, physical attacks and attacks on homes and offices.
Nohor Ali – KilledNohor Ali 38 was the Dumuria correspondent for the Khulna based regional Daily Anirban. On the morning of April 17 2001, about fifteen armed men beat him mercilessly. When the gang left the spot his wife admitted him to the local hospital and later he was referred to Khulna General Hospital where, on April 21, he died. It was alleged that one police officer of the Dumuria station was involved in the killing. Just before the death, Nohor had filed a series of reports on the activities of outlawed parties and the area. After Nohor’s death, Sub-Inspector, Ali Akbar, one of the suspects in the murder, filed a case and arrested four people. However local people soon started questioning the role of the investigating officer.
Mean while, Nohor’s wife came under sustain threat. Local people said that the same gang tried to rape her thrice. Her daughter, about 14, escaped several abduction attempts. The pressure was so great on the family that at one stage Nohar’s wife was force to appear in the court and officially declare that the four arrested persons were not involve in the murder of her husband.Ahsan Ali - Killed On July 22 2001, police recovered the body of the Rupganj correspondent of the Daily Jugantor, Ahsan Ali, from DND canal near Gandhabpur high school in Rupganj upazila. Ahsan Ali was missing since the night of July 20. His hands and legs had been tied and his body bore the marks of acid burns.
His wife, Shahida Akhter, alleged that upazila BCL General Secretary Meher Ali had threatened the life of her husband five days ago. It is alleged that his objective reporting had hurt the BCL, the pro - Awami League student’s wing. Tipu Sultan- Injured On January 25, 2001, UNB Feni correspondent Tipu Sultan was seriously injured by the cader of local Awami League MP Joinal Hazari and his legs and hands broken. Witness said that Tipu was picked-up form near by petrol pump on Trunk Road at about 8:15 pm by a group of 4 or 5 people. He was beaten mercilessly and hacked with sharp weapons.Hazari cadres Babu and Kohinoor allegedly led the group. They were shouting and hurling abuses against newsmen while beating Tipu Sultan. The passers by rushed him to a local clinic from where he was shifted to hospital. Tipu was operated on several times at home and abroad. The Bangla daily, Prothom Alo contributed to his treatment by raising funds. Probir Sikder–Attempt on life On the morning of 20 April 2001, gunmen shot and stabbed Daily Janakantha’s Faridpur correspondent Probir Sikder, leaving him seriously injured. Police and witnesses said the newsman came under attack while he was going to cover a robbery in the town.A gang of six terrorists blasted bombs and stopped his motorbike. As Probir fell down, he received two bullets in his right leg and left hand. Ataher Ali Chowdhury-Kidnapped On 15 June 2001, Sitakunda correspondent of Daily Ittefaq Ataher Ali Chowdhury Khasru was kidnapped by armed cadres of Manun, the son of a local Awami League MP. Initially Khasru’s family failed to lodge any case in local police station. Later, on 18 June, a case was filed in Chittagong Pachlaish police station under the Public Safety Act. Under pressure from the journalist community, the police started operation and interrogation of suspected persons after an 8-day delay. After missing for 11 days, Ataher Ali Chowdhury was found lying in the Sitakunda area where he was thrown off a microbus. He said that the gang had tortured him and that he had been forced to drink urine and alcohol.Bombs hurled at Safiq Rehman’s HouseOn the evening of December 4 2001, the house of Shafiq Rehman, Editor of Bangla weekly Jaijaidin came under bomb attack. A group of unidentified miscreants hurled the bombs at his Eskaton Garden home.Attack in Daily Purbakone OfficeOn 18 April 2001, at midnight, Awami League Ward Commissioner of Chittagong City Corporation and alleged terrorist Mamunur Rashid Mamun, attacked the Chittagong based regional Daily Purbakone office. Brandishing a revolver, he kicked and punch senior journalists Eskander Ali Chowdhury and Jalal Ahmed Chowdhury. Both were seriously injured. Mamun also beat other employees and security guards of the Daily Purbakone. Attack in Daily SitalakkhaOn 21 October 2001, a group of terrorists attacked the Narayanganj based regional Dail Sitalakkha and threatened its Editor. It was alleged that the attackers belonged to the ruling party.Attack on Awami League Press Conference On 11 November 2001, a group of Jubodal armed cadres attacked an Awami League organized press conference. Jubodal cadres started beating journalists and Awami League workers and leaders. 16 person, including 8 journalists, were injured in this incident. 12 Jubodal workers were expelled from the organization for this attack. Police arrested the main persons who masterminded the attack.Police action on journalists On 26 February 2001, police attacked a press conference organized by the final year examinees of Sadat University College, leaving nine newsmen injured. The examinees had arranged a press conference protesting what they said were mass expulsions in this examination.A photojournalist Iftekhar Anupam came under attack while police also assaulted eight other newsmen including General Secretary of Press Club.In August 2001, during a clash between two rival fractions of the Jatiya Party, police attacked Rangpur Press Club and hurled abuses against journalists and threw down the signboard of the club. Later, the local District Commissioner and Superintendent of Police sought the apology of the journalists. Record in harassing journalistsLast year, the highest number of journalists harassed or attacked were in the Barisal region, especially in Gournadi upazila. According to the Daily Independent, journalists, including the district and upazila level correspondents of the national dailies and the reporters of the local dailies of Barisal region were not able to perform their professional duties in the face of attacks, assault threat by terrorists and arrest by police. A total of 42 such journalists were either manhandled, assaulted, threatened by terrorists or harassed by the police in different ways during months from January 16 to June 19 of last year.
The house of several journalists, two of whom are local Press Club presidents of Barisal and Bauphal, were attacked and ransacked. Cases were filed against some journalists who are attached to popular dailies, and two journalists were arrested during the period. Needless to say, some of those who had cases filed against them were crime reporters.Freedom of speech and expression are guaranteed by the Constitution of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, the freedom of the press – where speech and expression are incorporated – is a constant target for unscrupulous, vested interest groups and their supporters.
Prepared for Odhikar by: Fazlous
Source: The Independent, Dhaka, April 12, 2002
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