Journalist Nadia Sharmeen, Shahbagh and radical Hefazat


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Almost three months into the brutal attack, Nadia Sharmeen is now languishing at home with one of her legs almost non-functional as ligaments ruptured.

On April 6, Ekushey Television journalist Nadia Sharmeen was attacked and injured by fuming supporters of Hefazat-e-Islam’s long-march near Purana Paltan intersection where she was on duty to cover the outer periphery of a mass rally that took place in Motijheel that day amid huge tension.

On April 11, SI Ikftekharul Alam of Shahbagh police station filed a case against 50 to 60 unnamed Hefazat activists under Section 11 of Penal Code and Section 10 of the Women and Child Repression Prevention Act.

However, no progress is seen in the case even three months after the incident which was photographed by many people including journalists while the attackers could be identified too. The television channels also aired part of the incident.

The High Court, however, has acted, again, thanks to a petitioner Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, while the authorities keep mum. On July 29, it ordered the authorities to arrest the perpetrators and ensure proper healthcare of the journalist.

There was no major incident of clashes with police during the April 6 rally in Dhaka even though people and police anticipated worse due to the remarks and threats the Hefazat leaders had been making ahead of the showdown. All the media were very active as newspapers and televisions deployed extra hands to cover the mass rally as the long-march from different parts of the country was obstructed in some places by the pro-government activists and many transport owners kept their vehicles off the road.

But journalists were assaulted and tortured at many places; reports say at least eight newsmen were tortured in Dhaka and Chittagong. The supporters of Hefazat and their like-minded parties were opposed to journalists from the television channels and newspapers which covered the Shahbagh events live and exclusively.

Nadia was attacked for that particular reason, and for being a working woman.

The incident took place near Purana Paltan crossing around 4:30pm. Witnesses said some Hefazat men began to shout “we do not want any woman here, catch her.” She initially protested and locked into an altercation with the long-march supporters.

But as some of them started to hit her and some 40 others joined, Nadia started running out of fear. But she was not spared.

The long-march supporters were chasing Nadia on the street in broad daylight while shouting at her. Some five of them were punching her. The others hurled her with brickbats and water bottles.

Talking to reporters at the hospital, Nadia said: “I was observing my duty at Paltan when some Hefazat men fell upon me. They were saying ‘all the journalists are speaking in favour of Shahbagh, and why are you here even though you are a woman.’

“Then they started beating me up and chasing chanting slogan ‘hold the atheist female reporter from Shahbagh.’ They chased me from Paltan to Bijoynagar intersection, in front of Diganta TV.

“They hurled on me everything they had including [water] bottles and bricks. They beat me indiscriminately as I fell on the road several times.”

Several other male television reporters from GTV and Diganta TV, who were present at the spot, tried to save her, but they were also beaten up by the Hefazat activists. Nadia’s co-worker camera person Hanif also sustained injuries in the attack.

More journalists attacked

Around 2:30pm, SA TV reporter Mohsin Kabir and its camera crew Khorshed Alam were seriously assaulted by the Hefazat men in Paltan when they were interviewing some activists at the rally. The demonstrators also took away the video cameras of the journalists.

Hefazat men also assaulted a Daily Ittefaq’s photographer in Paltan area in the afternoon.

In the evening, Hefazat members attacked ATN Bangla cameraman Sohel Rana near Notre Dem College. He was in the head and leg.

Meanwhile, in Chittagong, Ekattor TV reporter and cameraperson were assaulted as they were broadcasting live the preparation for the long-march.

A coincidence or consequence?

It was not the first fanatic attack by the Islamists against the spirit of Shahbagh. On February 22, when several thousand aggrieved Muslims across the country, coming out of the mosques after saying the Juma prayers, took to the streets and swooped on the stages and establishments erected in support of the movement in Shahbagh. They resorted to vandalism and arson attacks on those places, in Sylhet and Feni on the local Shaheed Minar premises even.

In Dhaka’s Baitul Mokarram, the Muslims locked into clashes first with journalists and then with police as their entry were restricted. Around half a dozen of journalists were injured in the attacks by Musullis before the prayers as they were taking footage of the angry protesters who were throwing bricks at police outside the boundary of the national mosque.

After the prayers, the Islamists in thousands attacked police from inside and outside the mosque. They tried to bring out processions towards Shahbagh but as police resisted, they locked into clashes. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters.

A smear campaign?

Islamist parties in the opposition alliance and also the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami supported the programme that mainly demanded an anti-blasphemy law and banning free mixing of men and women for, what they said, “protecting Islam from the hands of atheists who were leading the Shahbagh movement.” It appears that the protesters in Shahbagh were demanding death of the preachers of Islam!

Other parties like ruling government ally Jatiya Party of HM Ershad, Bikalpadhara Bangladesh and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) also extended their support and assisted the long-march participants with an intention to make some benefits, to have the big crowd in the elections. The plan came out successful, indeed.

From Shahbagh, people mainly the youths gathered together to spread the call for death penalty for all war criminals and a ban on Jamaat-Shibir. They also urged people to boycott products and services operated by the Jamaat men and their supporters, which triggered the opposition colony to wage a war. Opposition newspapers and television channels began campaigning against Shahbagh while leaders of political parties opposed to the government, which in 2009 began the trial of war criminals, contributed in fuelling an agitation amongst the Islamist politicians.

Within 10 days of the movement, it spread around the world and Bangladeshis from home and abroad extended the movement for the same call. But at the same time, a Shahbagh activist, Ahmed Razib Haider, was brutally killed by the youths of radical Jamaat near his Mirpur residence on the night of February 15. And surprisingly, within hours, he was labelled as an “atheist” blogger and some documents written demeaning Islam and Prophet Muhammad were fabricated on a website under the name of Razib.

The next few days were tense in the Shahbagh side as they were not as furious as killers, but the Islamists were relieved as the government didn’t take any action against them in the beginning. As a result of this inaction, the fundamentalists carried out violent protests in Dhaka and across the country on February 22 against the war trial supporters, the journalists and the police. Hefazat surfaced on March 9 when they invited Islamist leaders in Chittagong under the cover of an Islamic conference, and declared their demands in fanatic voice to stop Shahbagh and execute the atheists. Before this, Hefazat demonstrated in 2010 and 2011 against the women development policy and the education policy terming those anti-Islamic.

It should be mentioned that several pro-opposition media including daily Amar Desh, daily Naya Diganta and Jamaat mouthpiece daily Sangram newspapers and Diganta and Islamic televisions have been upbeat against Shahbagh movement since the beginning. Among these, Amar Desh and another daily Inqilab, founded by razakar Abdul Mannan, instigated the Musullis after the death of Razib by publishing fabricated blogposts. The acting editor of Amar Desh, Mahmudur Rahman, was arrested much later after the massacres by Jamaat and Hefazat’s desperate demonstrations. Police claim they found evidence that Mahmudur had ISI connection.

The rising voice in Shahbagh was the first after 1992, when Jahanara Imam – mother of martyred freedom fighter Rumi – had launched a people’s court that ordered death penalty of Ghulam Azam, the Jamaat guru and mastermind of Pakistani collaborators, for the atrocities during 1971 Liberation War.

However, 22 years after the public trial, the International Crimes Tribunal on July 15 sentenced Ghulam Azam to 90 years in jail observing that his offences amounted to death penalty. But the court considered the age of the convict, who is known to the pro-liberation people as the “greatest traitor of Bangladesh” – a Mir Zafar – after the Mir Zafar Ali Khan of 1757 who sided with the British to capture Bangla and caused the death of Nawab Sirajuddullah, the last independent emperor of Bangla. Pro-Pakistani leader Ghulam Azam was defeated to the spirit of Bangladesh’s freedom fighters and the supporters of the Liberation War. But due to political demoralisation, he escaped punishment and has been continuing his venture for grabbing power in the name of establishing Islam since 1978 when he had entered the independent Bangladesh and started doing politics, thanks to the BNP founder Gen Ziaur Rahman, the military strongman – a suspected planner of the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. Jamaat was banned in December 1971.

Ah! What did I start with? Whatever! Can you find any link among the incidents? Only justice for the victims can ensure a just and civilised society.

UPDATE October 1: Nadia joined work again last month, though she still has problem in her leg. Treating herself. The case has been transferred to Detective Branch (DB) of Police.

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