UN decries culture of impunity in Bangladesh over killing of journalists
By Robin Gomes
Married Bangladeshi couple Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi were stabbed to death in their rented apartment in front of their 5-year-old son on 11 February 2012. It is widely believed that they were targeted because of their investigative reporting on corruption in Bangladesh’s energy sector which they were about to publish.
Sarowar was news editor at Bangladesh’s TV channel Masranga, while his wife, Runi, was a senior reporter at ATN Bangla, a satellite and cable television channel.
UN rights experts have expressed deep concern at the failure of Bangladeshi authorities to complete an investigation and ensure justice over the twin murder 10 years ago, UN human rights experts said on Friday.
No justice after 10 years
“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,” five UN Special Rapporteurs said on Friday. The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They monitor violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and issues such as torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Bangladesh’s High Court in April 2012 tasked the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the country’s elite police unit, to investigate the Sarowar-Runi murder case. Last November, the Court demanded for the 84th time that RAB should submit its findings, which still has not happened.
Culture of impunity
“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,” the experts said in a joint statement released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The UN experts lamented that at least 15 journalists have been killed in the country over the past decade.
They urged 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.
The UN experts complained that numerous reports of journalists, activists, and members of civil society groups being arbitrarily detained, attacked, abducted, threatened, and subjected to judicial harassment. These incidents appear to be rarely investigated or prosecuted, and in some cases local authorities are thought to be directly implicated in the attacks.
Journalists under attack
“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,” they said.
The experts also complained that their allegations to the government have fallen upon deaf ears. They had written to the country’s authorities in 2012 following the murder of Sarowar and Runi but received no response.
The special rapporteurs also expressed dismay over inconclusive judicial proceedings regarding the killing of journalist and human rights defender Abdul Hakim Shimul in February 2017, and the custodial death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed, in February 2021. (Source: UN News, OHCHR)