With a Little Help From His Friends

24 June 2001

A Bangladeshi reporter comes to Thailand for care following brutal attack back home.

By A. Lin Neumann
June 4, 2001

Bangkok — Tipu Sultan says that the measure of fame he has received since the men with the baseball bats, hockey sticks and iron bars shattered his arms has only strengthened his resolve.

“The society has given me support at this terrible time,” said the slight 27 year-old Bangladeshi journalist from his Bangkok hospital bed, “Now I want to go back to my profession. I want to write true things.”

Writing true things, as he sees it, almost cost Sultan his life and resulted in a long period of hospitalization in Bangladesh and now Thailand. He has undergone multiple surgeries and suffered permanent injuries to his arms and hands.

Just how permanent those injuries prove to be is now up to fate and a team of surgeons at the modern Bumrungrad Hospital in Bangkok. Sultan was beaten and left for dead on January 25 in the town of Feni in rural Bangladesh 130 kilometers east of Dhaka. He came to Bangkok in May for specialized treatment after doctors in Bangladesh had done all they could to save his arms and hands.

An outpouring of financial support from his colleagues in Bangladesh outraged by the attack helped make it possible for Sultan to receive treatment abroad. Journalists at several major newspapers donated a portion of their salary to him and organized a public fund-raising campaign on his behalf. International organizations, such as the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists and the Correspondent’s Fund, have also assisted Sultan since the attack.

If a series of surgeries in Bangkok are successful, doctors here say, Sultan will regain the use of his hands and be able to return to work as a journalist. Dr. Sitthiporn Orapin, an orthopedic surgeon at Bumrungrad Hospital, said that Sultan very nearly lost his left arm to gangrene while the bones in his right hand were so badly dislocated that the fingers had ceased to function. “Without surgery and treatment,” Dr. Sitthiphorn said, “he would have lost the use of both hands to some degree.”

Destroying his hands seemed to be what the thugs who beat him had in mind.

Sultan, the Feni correspondent for United News of Bangladesh, an independent news agency, has written a number of stories critical of a powerful ruling party legislator. Just days before the attack one of those stories named the lawmaker, Joynal Hazari, and implicated him in an attack on a local school over a political slight.

After the story appeared, on January 17, Sultan began receiving death threats. Eight days later, Sultan was seized at the roadside in Feni within site of the local police station. He heard the men who grabbed him talk to Hazari on a cell phone and receive instructions to hurt him. “I knew these men as the men of Hazari. They told me, ‘This is the order of Hazari – to beat you,’” Sultan said.

He was dragged away and beaten by 15 to 20 men with sticks and bats and bars for over an hour. They smashed his legs and arms, reducing the bones in his arms to fragments and opening large wounds in his broken legs. They paid special attention to the bones in his right hand, which he tried to shield from his attackers as long as he could. . “When they were done, they thought I was dead,” Sultan said.

He was tossed in a rickshaw and taken away, his broken body eventually dumped by the side of the road. None of those Sultan identified have been arrested for the attack.

Sultan, who was named Correspondent of the Year by his news agency in 2000, became a cause celebré for his colleagues in Bangladesh as news of the brutal assault became known. He became a symbol of a rising tide of violence directed against journalists in Bangladesh. Journalist groups in the country say that there were 50 attacks against media professionals during the past six months.

Living on a salary of US$40 a month and with no health insurance, he would have remained a cripple had other reporters not pitched in to help him. After numerous surgeries in Dhaka, doctors there determined that they could do nothing more to save his hands. A relative even had to argue with the medical staff in the hospital when they were intent on amputating Sultan’s left arm because they felt they would not be able to save it.

“Will Tipu Sultan become handicapped for life?” asked one headline in the Daily Star newspaper in April as the young reporter was recovering from his wounds in a Dhaka hospital. The article was part of a fundraising drive that eventually netted several thousand dollars from journalists and the public to send Sultan to Thailand for surgery and rehabilitation.

Finally, on May 7, Sultan was flown to Bangkok and there is now hope for recovery. Doctors here say they are confident that with careful surgeries and good physical rehabilitation treatment Sultan will again be able to work. He will likely be confined in hospital here for at least two months.

“Journalists do a good job for the people,” Sultan said, his voice barely a whisper, “So I want to try and be responsible for the people. I want to protest against the bad things going on.”

Now, with a little luck, the help of his colleagues and the right medical care, Tipu Sultan will have the chance to put those words into action once again.

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