Updated: August 23, 2021 12:03 PM GMT
A photo of journalist Prince Edward Mangsang being tied to a tree and beaten by a local politician sparked uproar on social media. (Photo: Facebook)
Rights activists in Bangladesh have demanded justice over an attack on a Catholic journalist by a local politician for publishing a news report on his alleged corruption.
Prince Edward Mangsang, an ethnic Garo Catholic and a reporter for Bengali news portal www.aswabi.com, was tied to a tree and beaten by Rahim Ahmed, chairman of Aronkhola Union Council, a local government body in the Madhupur area of Tangail district in central Bangladesh, on Aug. 22.
A photograph of the assault went viral on Facebook and sparked angry reactions from netizens.
Ahmed and his men accused Mangsang of spreading fake news about Ahmed that tarnished his image. Ahmed also filed a criminal defamation case against Mangsang and he was arrested, a police official said.
“Yesterday [Aug. 22] when I heard that the people of the village were beating him, I sent the police and the police rescued him and brought him to the police station,” Tarique Kamal, officer in charge of Madhupur police station, told UCA News.
“He was later arrested and sent to jail after Rahim Ahmed filed a case. We are still investigating.”
He is also accused of taking bribes from local people to enlist them for various government social safety schemes
The journalist's report, published on Aug. 14, alleged that Ahmed and his collaborators had grabbed and occupied government land near a hospital and he had exploited his position to take the lease of 40 bighas (13 acres or 5.2 hectares) of land for a government social forestry project only to cultivate pineapple for business.
He is also accused of taking bribes from local people to enlist them for various government social safety schemes such as the Vulnerable Groups Feeding (VGF) program.
The report also questioned how Ahmed was able to construct a palatial house and buy vast land in the area without any significant source of income over the past decade.
The assault on Mangsang is the latest in a series of cases of attacks on journalists in Bangladesh.
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, at least 247 journalists were subjected to attacks, harassment and intimidation by state officials and others affiliated with the Bangladesh government in 2020. More than 900 cases were filed under the draconian Digital Security Act with nearly 1,000 people charged and 353 detained — many of them journalists.
Ain O Salish Kendra (Law and Arbitration Center), a Dhaka-based human rights group, reported that at least 133 journalists have been harassed in various ways from January to July this year. Lawsuits have been filed against 26 journalists for publishing news.
Human rights activist Nur Khan condemned the attack and said that journalists, especially in rural areas, face extreme abuses and insecurity.
“Rural journalists are now at greater risk than in urban areas, especially as they are being harassed more by the leaders of the ruling party. If this continues, journalism will be threatened,” Khan told UCA News.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranks Bangladesh 152nd out of 182 countries in its latest press freedom index
The violence against Mangsang was a violation of human rights, said Apurba Mrong, secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of Mymensingh Catholic Diocese covering the area.
Whether the report was true or false could have been proved in court but he should not have been tied up and tortured, Mrong told UCA News.
“It is a violation of human rights. Newspapers are called the fourth pillar of the state and if it does not work properly then democracy will be ruined,” he said.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders ranks Bangladesh 152nd out of 182 countries in its latest press freedom index, due largely to tougher policies and widespread press freedom violations.