Saturday, January 7, 2012

Journalist-bashing MP Must Be Called To Account

The assault of a woman journalist by Kamal Ahmed Majumder, a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League, on the premises of Monipur High School and College at Mirpur in the capital Dhaka on Tuesday is not only unbecoming of a people's representative but also borders on criminality on more counts than one.

According to a report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday, the journalist, of the private television channel RTV, was pushed and hurled abuse at when she sought Majumder's comment on the allegation that the school was charging extra for admission. She also alleged that the lawmaker's associates 'encircled' her and her colleagues after they had come out of the school and sexually harassed her.

Moreover, the lawmaker, according to witnesses, ordered his associates to 'shoot down' the reporters, as he came out after a meeting with guardians. Suffice it to say, Majumder seems to have allowed arrogance to get better of him, and not only cut a sorry figure of himself but also bring the institution that he represents, i.e. parliament, into disrepute.

It is pertinent to recall here that guardians have long been protesting against the school realising Tk 20,000 in development fee with Tk 5,000 in admission fee fixed by the government.

According to media reports, similar allegations were also raised in 2011. By refusing to talk to the journalist and, worse still, assaulting her, unleashing his musclemen on her and making threats, the AL lawmaker has not only obstructed her journalistic pursuit for the truth, and thus perpetrated an attack on press freedom, but also seemingly betrayed his indulgence in, if not complicity with, the school's practice of realising additional fees from the students, which runs counter with the government's policy on school admissions.

Moreover, if the allegation of the journalist in question of sexual harassment by the lawmaker's associate is true, he cannot simply shirk his responsibility. Besides, as a people's representative, he is expected to uphold the law and uphold public interest needless to say, he has defaulted on both these obligations.

It is encouraging that the education ministry's response to the incident has been prompt. The ministry on Tuesday commissioned a committee to investigate the incident and submit its report within two working days. The inquiry committee appears to have begun its work in earnest, visiting the spot on the very day it was instituted and talking to the people concerned.

The education minister has, meanwhile, expressed his regret about the incident. Overall, the response of the government has thus far been beyond question. However, it needs to understand that the incident needs to be inquired thoroughly, transparently, competently and acceptably. If the lawmaker is found to have been involved in the incident as alleged, he must be called to account and punished.

A decisive and demonstrative action against the lawmaker would, on the one hand, go a long way to prove the government's commitment to the rule of law and, on the other, be deterrent to similar incidents in the future.

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