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Monday, April 27, 2020

FExB/মুক্ত প্রাকাশ on 30 Days Audit of Media in Lockdown

Dhaka, 27 April 2020:
The government imposed a countrywide lockdown from 26 March 2020 and extended for the third consecutive period until 05 May 2020 for containment of the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh (FExB) or মুক্ত প্রাকাশ(in Bangla), a network of media rights defenders has expressed deep anguish and grave concern over the developments during 30 Days of Lockdown which has taken a toll on Bangladesh news organisations, journalists, whistleblowers, and citizen-journalists.
The country is reeling from the COVID-19 crisis and the vulnerable segments of our society are the most at risk. Besides the “healthcare warriors”, the journalists are also on the frontline. The journalists and citizen-journalists are frequently targeted by state and non-state actors while reporting on the COVID-19 outbreak, which FExB reckons to be a serious threat to freedom of expression.
When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took an effort to scale-up food aid for the disadvantaged population in response to the nationwide shutdown, the media organizations, journalists and whistleblowers had to take the brunt of anger and vengeance by local leaders and government officials including the police.
Nearly twenty journalists were attacked, intimidated, harassed, or arrested for reporting on pilferage, corruption, and lack of accountability in food aid meant for poor people who are facing extreme hardship during the lockdown.
FExB states that Thakurgaon district is the worst place for journalism in the country after six journalists were subjected to judicial harassment within a week.
On 19 April, two editors Toufique Imrose Khalidi, Editor-in-Chief of, Mohiuddin Sarker, acting editor of along with three other journalists Rahim Suvho, Thakurgaon correspondent of and a local journalist Shaown Amin were accused under draconian Digital Security Act.
After ten days of publication of the news in two news portals on misappropriation of open market sale (OMS) rice, the Baliadangi Upazila’s Swechchhasebak League, also a local ruling party leader Mominul Islam filed a case against the journalists. The case is under investigation and none has been arrested.
It was also alleged that other journalists posted aggressive, false, and defamatory information against him (Mominul Islam) and his brother a Union Parishad chairman Aminul Islam Amin on their Facebook pages.
In a separate case on 15 April, police sued Al Mamun, correspondent of Dainik Odhikar district correspondent under notorious cybersecurity laws for criticising the district civil administration in Facebook for its failure to take effective measures to contain the spread of coronavirus during the lockdown.
On 21 April, another journalist in Thakurgaon Abdul Latif Litu, a local correspondent of popular newspaper Bangladesh Pratidin and private TV channel News 24 was assaulted by police at a check post during the lockdown.
FExB is deeply concerned regarding the series of attacks, intimidation, and judicial harassment of journalists and other media organisations all over the country, during the 30 Days of Lockdown.
On 31 March 2020, Sagor Chowdhury, a freelance video-blogger and editor of a local news portal 360degree was publicly assaulted by Nabil Hyder, son of Jashim Uddin Hyder, president of Borhanuddin Upazila Awami League and also chairman of Boro Manika Union Parishad over posting a live video on Facebook. Police arrested the perpetrator Nabil Hyder, a member of the Chattra League of Dhaka University.
On 1 April 2020, three journalists Shah Sultan Ahmed, Nabiganj Upazila correspondent of the Dainik Protidiner Sangbad in Habiganj, Mujibur Rahman, correspondent of Dainik Amar Sangbad and Bulbul Ahmed, correspondent of private TV Channel-S were attacked with a cricket bat by Mahibur Rahman Harun, chairman of Aushkandi Union Parishad and also a local leader of the ruling party. Sultan was shifted to Osmani Medical College in Sylhet with critical injuries.
Earlier, Sultan posted a live video on Facebook which revealed that the local leader (Harun) was distributing each of the families 5 kg of rice instead of the allocation of 10 kg.
On 10 April 2020, Nasir Uddin Rocky, a staff reporter of vernacular daily Dainik Jugantor in Chittagong was on his way to the newspaper office riding a motorcycle. At a check-post, the police arrested the journalist, later released unconditionally. The police officer was suspended.
On 12 April 2020, police in Bogura at a check-post, arbitrarily handcuffed and assaulted two journalists Majedur Rahman, correspondent of a private channel Shomoy TV and Shahjahan Ali of a private channel Ekattor TV. The journalists were dragged to the police station and were released. The delinquent police officers were suspended.
On 14 April 2020, police arrested Golam Sarwar Pintu, journalist of Dainik Bangladesher Alo after Sheikh Salim, a Dhaka city councillor of Ward 38 filed a case under notorious Digital Security Act with Badda Police Station.
Pintu’s crime was the publication of news regarding angry urban-poor community held protest demanding food aid during the lockdown.
On 16 April 2020, police assaulted Tuhin Howlader, court correspondent of a vernacular daily Bangladesh Pratidin in the capital Dhaka.
On 18 April, Bangla Vision TV correspondent Kamal Hossain was attacked by hooligans in Barishal when he tried to cover a gathering that had formed – in violation of the lockdown – because members of the local Department of Narcotics were selling alcohol to the public.
On 21 April, Rezwan Karim Sabbir, a Jaintapur upazila correspondent of the daily Nayadiganta and the Dainik Sylhet Mirror, a member of the Sylhet Jaintapur Press Club, was hospitalized at Sylhet Medical College with serious head injuries after he wa attacked by Abul Hasim, who was annoyed by an article in which the journalist had reported a local coronavirus case.
On 23 April 2020, Chairman of Amirganj Union Parishad in Narsingdi mercilessly assaulted Baten Biplob, Senior Crime Reporter and TV Anchor of SATV KHOJ, and Sajal Bhuiyan Narsingdi correspondent of TV channel SATV.
Baten Biplob in his Facebook post described the barbaric attack on journalist Sajal Bhuiyan who was profusely bleeding and crying in pain. He was admitted to Narsingdi government hospital. The perpetrators were not arrested and the police administration is not cooperating, it was alleged.
FExB demands to end impunity and to bring them to justice of the local leaders, police, and district administration officials responsible over the attacks, judicial harassments, intimidations, and arrests of frontline “media warriors”. #
Endorsed and signed by Media Rights Defenders:
1.        Dr. Aireen Jaman, General Secretary, PEN International, Bangladesh, London;
2.        Faruq Faisel, South Asia Regional Director, Article 19, London;
3.        Saleem Samad, Correspondent, Reporter Without Borders (RSF), Paris;
4.        Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, CEO, VOICE, Dhaka
5.        Khairuzzaman Kamal, Representative International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels;
6.        Mainul Islam Khan, Representative, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York;
7.        Biplob Mostafiz, Member, Mukto Prakash (FExB), Media Rights Defender;
8.        Sayeed Ahmad, Representative, Front Line Defenders, Dublin, Ireland;
9.        Ahamad Ullah, Member, Bangladesh Manabadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF), Dhaka;
10.     GM Mourtaza, CEO, CCD Bangladesh; Rajshahi.
For more information, please contact Saleem Samad: Mobile: +88-01711-530207; Email:, Twitter: @saleemsamad; Faruq Faisel: Mobile: +88-01730-710267, Email: Twitter: @faruqfaisel

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Asian countries flatten coronavirus curve

Photo: Reuters
Asian models that actually combated Covid-19
Globally nations are convinced that washing hands with soap, wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, and staying home are prime health safety tips to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
The scenario in Taiwan, however, is similar but strikingly different from most countries in Asia, Africa, America, and Europe struggling to combat the Covid-19 crisis.
In a new coronavirus twist, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and Hong Kong are examples of containment that have been hailed for using those lessons learned from combating the new coronavirus, officially Covid-19 and a relative of SARS.
By the time the virus began to spill over China’s frontiers in January, many health think-tanks believed that territories having proximity would take the major brunt for a large-scale outbreak.
Singapore, Taiwan, and Hong Kong territories are closely interconnected with mainland China, unilaterally imposed travel restrictions on nationals returning from China, contravening the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) insistence that a travel ban was not necessary.
The precaution, nevertheless, came at a significant economic cost to these international hubs, which all rely on mainland China as their biggest trading partner and source of tourists too.
Amid these grim trends, South Korea has emerged as a sign of hope and a model to imitate as coronavirus cases have dropped sharply to a single digit. 
The South Korean president hoped that containment progress gave hope that the coronavirus outbreak is “surmountable” in other parts of the world.
Well, after after the deadly SARS epidemic in 2003, Taiwan established a Central Command Centre for Epidemics. The country had introduced national drills in educational institutions, government establishments, and factories for preparedness on bio-safety.
The Command Centre has quickly compiled a list of 124 “action items,” including border controls, school and work policies, public communication plans and resource assessments of hospitals, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
The 210 countries typically struggling with the coronavirus pandemic have gambled on a containment strategy. It has socked hundreds of countries that have imposed strict shutdowns and stay-home policies to hear that Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Vietnam residents venture outside only by necessity while national emergency remains enforced.
Unlike wealthier Asian neigbours, Vietnam does not have the capabilities to conduct mass testing, but surprisingly the country has zero fatalities with no new cases in the last several days. The status of coronavirus cases was 268 and 202 recovered as of April 20.
Hong Kong, an autonomous state of China promptly imposed border control from early February and made quarantine in hospitals mandatory for those returning from mainland China.
Hong Kong’s population of 7.5 million had had just 1,026 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection, recovery of 602 and four deaths as of April 20, according to a new study published in the health journal Lancet.
A study by Harvard University’s Centre for Communicable Disease Dynamics estimates Singapore detected almost three times more cases than the global average due to its strong disease surveillance and fastidious contact tracing.
In Singapore, amid the coronavirus outbreak, quarantine, and isolation protocols were strictly enforced. 
The government has deployed plainclothes police officers to track persons in quarantine and used government-issued mobile phones to keep tabs on them.
The challenges remain for Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore of a growing number of recovered Covid-19 patients relapsing especially in South Korea, raising fresh concerns among scientists and health authorities after the countries successfully flattened the curve. 

First published in The Dhaka Tribune on 20 April 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad; he can be reached at

Monday, April 13, 2020

This dystopia Lockdown is stranger than fiction


The current lockdown is a scenario straight out of movies and paperback thrillers.
When Peter May’s manuscript was pitched -- with a bizarre scenario of a global pandemic -- it was refused by several publishers for being too unrealistic. Now it is scheduled to hit the bookstore on April 30.
The dystopian novel has turned into reality. His current publisher Quercus Books hopes that familiarity with a pandemic will appeal to a wide audience.
Well, the novel did not mention Wuhan in China. Instead, he chose London as an epicentre of a global pandemic that forced authorities to compel a lockdown to save lives.
Obviously, the novelist abandoned the project and eventually forgot that he had written it, until a fan contacted him on Twitter suggesting he should write something for the age of the coronavirus, refreshing his memory and prompting him to retrieve the file from a Dropbox folder.
When he read the manuscript for the first time since he wrote the book 15 years ago, he was shocked at how accurate it was.
The story, in brief, says London city is in lockdown. Violence and civil disorder simmer and authorities have no alternative but to declare martial law. No one is safe from the deadly virus. The British prime minister himself is dead. Health and emergency services are overwhelmed. 
Armed vigilantes block a neighbour’s driveway with a tree to force them into home quarantine.
However, the story was not based on the imagination of the Scottish screenwriter and novelist. He had painstakingly browsed hundreds of pages of British and the United States pandemic preparedness documents from 2002 to make it as realistic as possible.
The much talked about book Lockdown was finally published 15 years later; that’s our reality due to coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 1 million people globally.
Available in paperback, the 416- page crime thriller titled Lockdown predicted in 2005 a world in quarantine, which has finally seen the light of the day.
The current coronavirus pandemic has severely squeezed the value chain of the book distributors to reach the bookstores globally. However, the publication is only available through Amazon UK on Kindle format ($4.99) for now. It also will be available in paperback ($13.58) and audio-book from April 30.
The 69-year-old Peter May was born and raised in Scotland, United Kingdom. He was an award-winning journalist at the age of 21 and a published novelist at 26. When his first book was adapted as a major drama series for the BBC, he quit journalism and became one of Scotland’s most successful television dramatists.
He created three prime-time drama series, presided over two of the highest-rated serials in his homeland as script editor and producer, and worked on more than 1,000 episodes of ratings-topping drama before deciding to leave television to return to his first love, writing novels. He has won several literature awards.
“At the time I wrote the book, scientists were predicting that bird flu was going to be the next major world pandemic,” May told the American TV channel CNN.
“The everyday details of how you get through life, the way the lockdown works, people being forbidden to leave their homes. It’s all scarily accurate,” he quipped.
Well, the invisible enemies of bird flu and coronavirus are very different, but the lockdown scenario hits close to home for millions of people currently self-isolating to prevent the virus from spreading.

First published in the Dhaka Tribune on 13 April 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter: @saleemsamad. Reach him at

Monday, April 06, 2020

Iran using coronavirus to lobby for lifting of sanctions

Photo: Reuters

Is Iran using the coronavirus to lobby for lifting of sanctions?
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Islamic Republic of Iran’s clerics -- President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif -- shrewdly appear to be investing significant political capital in a global campaign to have all sanctions against the theocratic regime lifted.
Iran clerics blame the imposition of economic sanctions by the United States to have caused a heavy toll in the Covid-19 public health crisis -- the confirmed cases are nearly 58,500 while deaths have risen to more than 3,600, as of April 6.
Taking the crisis as an issue with the West, Tehran has launched a new diplomatic campaign admitting its failure of clinical management of the pandemic.
The Iranian leaders are desperate for the US to lift its sanctions and are placing significant pressure on the international community to release financial resources, including those which are frozen by the Trump administration, as explained by Dr Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist based in the US.
Not very surprisingly, several US lawmakers, including Sen Bernie Sanders, Rep Ilhan Omar, Sen Elizabeth Warren, and Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have succumbed to the excuse given by the regime’s foreign minister Javad Zarif.
Fortunately, the US sanctions do not include medical or humanitarian restrictions, which could impact the fight against Covid-19, argues Iran watchers.
The outbreak of the virus has nothing to do with the much-talked-about US sanctions, instead of the clerical regime’s failure to contain the crisis efficiently.
“If the timeline of the Iran cleric’s activities is analyzed, it could be understood from the stubbornness of the regime,” says Hanif Jazayeri, an Iranian opposition activist based in London.
In January, the regime’s supreme leader authorized more than $215 million for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) backed Quds Force, engaged in proxy wars in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.
Iran’s regime recently spent $67m redecorating the Zeynab Shrine in Syria with funds that could instead be used in the fight against the pandemic.
When the first case of a coronavirus victim was detected in mid-February in the religious city of Qom, authorities covered up its existence when they asked the people to take part in the sham parliamentary elections.
President Hassan Rouhani has overtly ruled out quarantining any cities and instead “donated” 3 million face masks to China as a “sign of long-term and traditional friendship between two countries.”
On the other hand, the IGRC has been caught hoarding millions of medical supplies, including disinfectants, gloves, and masks, while selling them on the black market at 10 times the price.
Ever since the outbreak, the Mahan Air, affiliated with the IRGC, has continued its flight to and from China, the geographical source of Covid-19.
Despite the conflict, the US has offered to support Iran during the coronavirus crisis via the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement and also exempted the donation of medicine to Iran from US sanctions. Unfortunately, the US offer was outright rejected by the regime in Tehran.
The WHO has sent Iran diagnostic kits and protective equipment for health care workers, including 7.5 tons of medical supplies. The United Arab Emirates also sent two planeloads of hygienic items to Iran, while Kuwait pledged to help Iran with $10m without any restriction.
Nevertheless, Iran’s Foreign Minister continues to threaten the international community that, if the sanctions against Iran are not lifted, the widespread coronavirus pandemic will endanger other countries’ national security.
The Rouhani-Zarif duo is trying to cash in on the coronavirus tragedy by pushing the US and the international community to lift all sanctions against the Iranian regime.

First Published in the Dhaka Tribune on 6 April 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email