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UK: Amnesty welcomes UK award for Bangladeshi journalist knifed for investigative work

But the organisation warned that many more human rights defenders – journalists, lawyers and activists – face threats and attacks every day around the world.

Already this year, Amnesty International has issued urgent appeals for 17 human rights defenders at grave, immediate risk in Bolivia, China, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, Russia, Sudan and Turkey.

Amnesty International UK Individuals At Risk Programme Manager, James Savage, said:

"Sumi is but one of thousands of brave people around the world - journalists, lawyers and activists - standing up for human rights in the face of threats and violence. Amnesty International has supported her case and we hope this award will highlight her vital work.

"Human rights defenders in Bangladesh are frequently at risk of attack and yet prosecutions of those who threaten and attack them are rare. The authorities must do more to protect those who speak out."

Sumi Khan had received death threats after writing investigative articles alleging the involvement of local politicians and religious groups in attacks on members of minority communities, and about kidnapping and land grabbing by landlords.

Sumi was stabbed and critically wounded on 27 April 2004. Three men in an auto-rickshaw attempted to drag her into their vehicle, but she resisted. They then stabbed her several times.

Before the attack, she received several threatening telephone calls, warning her not to defame people in her reports. The people who came to Sumi’s rescue heard the assailants yelling about her reports in the paper, saying she would be killed if she did not stop writing.

The death threats and attack are believed to be linked to her articles. She received more threatening phone calls as she recuperated at home.

Sumi has filed a complaint with the police about the attack, but so far no-one has been arrested. She has now gone back to work, but remains at risk and is cautious about signing her name under the articles for fear of attacks on herself and her sources.

Amnesty International members are campaigning on Sumi’s behalf, calling for full investigations into the threats and attack and proper protection for her.

Amnesty International UK members sent over 6,000 cards of support to Sumi as part of their Greetings Card Campaign last year.

Five Bangladeshi journalists standing up for human rights were murdered in 2004 alone and dozens have been seriously injured. Some have been physically injured to stop them from holding a pen to write.

Many have had to leave their homes and localities in the face of continued threats and many of them have lost or left their jobs. The attackers are believed to be mercenaries hired by people identified in the journalists’ reports as being involved in human rights abuses.

One Bangladeshi human rights defender told Amnesty International:

"A lot of death threats are issued. Journalists are forced to keep quiet. There is a lot of pressure on them from local persons with links to higher authorities who want journalists to keep quiet".

Victims of threats and attacks are left with no protection. The perpetrators are rarely brought to justice, as they reportedly bribe the police not to implicate them in the attacks.

In some cases they are reportedly able to rely on support from influential politicians, who are successful in discouraging the police from arresting the culprits.

At the same time, the government shows little determination to bring the attackers to justice. This cycle of impunity is a major cause of continued human rights violations in Bangladesh, including attacks on human rights defenders.

Amnesty International urged people in the UK to join its fight to protect human rights defenders around the world, by writing urgent appeals.

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