On the 10th anniversary of the murder of prominent journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi, UN human rights experts have expressed their deep concern at the failure of the Bangladeshi authorities to complete an investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.
"A decade after the killing of the two journalists, there is still no justice as a result of an appalling and pervasive culture of impunity in Bangladesh," said the experts in a joint statement on Friday.
The statement read, "Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi were stabbed to death in their home in front of their 5-year-old son on 12 February 2012. It is widely believed that the couple were targeted because of their investigative reporting on corruption in Bangladesh's energy sector which they were about to publish."
Mentioning that the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) was tasked by the High Court to investigate the case in 2012, it read, on 24 November 2021, the court demanded for the 84th time that RAB should submit its findings. It has still not done so.
"When crimes against journalists go unpunished, they embolden the perpetrators and encourage more attacks, threats and killings with the intention of intimidating the media into silence. We see those deeply worrying signs in Bangladesh," said the experts.
The joint statement also mentioned that at least 15 journalists have been killed in Bangladesh in the past decade. They said they the UN experts have received numerous reports of journalists, human rights defenders, and members of civil society organisations being arbitrarily detained, attacked, abducted, threatened online and offline, and subjected to judicial harassment.
The incidents appear to be rarely investigated or prosecuted, it read.
In some cases, local authorities are thought to be directly implicated in the attacks. Allegations brought to the attention of the government of Bangladesh by the UN experts often have gone unanswered. No response was ever received from the government to a letter sent by UN experts following the murder of Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi in 2012, the experts added.
The experts of the UN Human Rights Council include Irene Khan, Mary Lawlor, Clément N Voule, Nils Melzer and Morris Tidball-Binz.
They expressed concern that the trial for the fatal shooting of journalist and human rights defender Abdul Hakim Shimul in February 2017, allegedly by the then mayor of Shahzadpur, has been repeatedly delayed. Currently, it has been placed on a stay order by the High Court, with all the accused on bail.
The experts also recalled the death in custody in February 2021 of the writer Mushtaq Ahmed, following nine months in pre-trial detention on charges under the Digital Security Act (DSA) for publishing an article criticising the government's pandemic response.
The authorities failed to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into his death in custody, despite the concerns of his family that Ahmed had been tortured whilst in police custody, and that there was a three-hour delay in admitting him to hospital once he fell sick. Instead, an internal committee set up by the Home Ministry concluded his death was natural, without investigating the family's claims. UN experts received no response from the government when they raised their concerns about his death in custody.
"Journalism should not carry the inherent risk of being attacked, intimidated or killed with impunity but unfortunately that is the current reality for many journalists, human rights defenders and other members of civil society in Bangladesh," said the experts.
"We urge the government to conduct and complete prompt, thorough, independent and effective investigations and bring perpetrators to justice for the murder of Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi and other killings of journalists and human rights defenders in Bangladesh."