THE attacks by activists of the Chhatra League, the student wing of the ruling Awami League, that journalists ran into on Sunday while they were covering the protests of school and college students, who have taken to the streets for the eighth consecutive day to demand justice for the death of two of their fellows in a road accident in Dhaka on July 29, to seek road safety and to discipline vehicular traffic of all sorts, an issue that has been left into chaos for decades by the road transport managers, are doubly worrisome. While the Chhatra League activists attacked student protesters, which the police had not done for the past six days, they attacked the journalists to create a fearful situation for the media. At least 20 of the journalists were wounded and at least eight of them, including six photojournalists, needed to be treated in hospital. The attackers damaged a car of a private television channel and molested a female journalist of another private television channel. A photojournalist of the Associated Press, who was seriously injured all over the body but grievously in the head, needed to be admitted to hospital. The attackers smashed mobiles and the cameras of the journalists.
While the information ministers, as New Age reported on Monday, said that the government believed in the freedom of press and that he would act on the issue, a ranking city police official said that they could not tell that time who the protesters and who the journalists were. But the police are reported to have hardly tried to save either the protesters or the journalists or to deter the attackers. The city police chief, in a similar vain, on Saturday, however, said that the police were showing the highest degree of patience, as New Age reported on Sunday, in handling the situation. But, again, the police should have deterred the attackers who, with their face wrapped around with pieces of cloth or in helmets and brandishing sharp weapons, attacked the student protesters and journalists. The highest degree of patience in containing the situation or the instant inability of the police at identifying the protesters or the journalists and not taking any action against the attackers constitute an affront to law enforcement. The Chhatra League says that the attackers on the journalists might have been people from the opposition camp and their paid agents. But why the law enforcers are not acting to arrest, or at least deter, these ‘people from opposition camp’ remains a pressing question to be answered.
There has been a big gap between what the government professes about its belief in the freedom of press, as echoed by the information minister in his statement, and what it actually does, as evident in the attacks by Chhatra League activists on the school and college student running the protests and the journalists covering the incidents. The government needs some introspection to make a course correction and stop creating a fearful situation by various ploys of coercion. This is unacceptable.
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