Described by his colleagues as humble, witty and very articulate, Sultan, 30, was one of four recipients of the 2002 International Press Freedom Award on behalf of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Last January, Sultan was kidnapped and his legs and hands – notably his right writing hand – were battered so severely doctors were not sure that he would ever write again.
The assault came nine days after Sultan, a district correspondent for United News of Bangladesh (UNB), published an article directly implicating a local parliament member in a brutal crime. The lawmaker has consistently denied involvement in the attack.
The local police initially refused to investigate Sultan’s attack until a court intervened on behalf of the young reporter. Authorities have not prosecuted any suspects, despite the local media’s efforts to introduce evidence against Sultan’s attackers.
Sultan’s attack and the authorities’ response provoked protests from the press in Bangladesh and abroad, who organized an international fund-raising effort to pay for Sultan’s extensive medical treatment.
Sultan spent the following year undergoing rehabilitation in Thailand. He has since returned to Bangladesh, where he now regularly contributes for the daily Prothom Alo, one of the country’s leading newspapers.
Journalists in Bangladesh remain frequent targets of violence in apparent reprisal for critical reports and exposes. Crimes against reporters, like Sultan, largely go unpunished; each year dozens of journalists are physically attacked for their work, according to CPJ.
Nevertheless, local and foreign journalists continue to pursue Sultan’s explosive story, determined to expose additional cases of corruption and criminal activity by the government.
Bangladesh remains a dangerous assignment, however. At least one reporter was killed and more than 100 attacked while on duty there in 2001 alone, according to Reporters without Borders, a Paris-based international media watchdog.
At the CPJ’s awards ceremony in New York, Sultan said journalists face persecution in Bangladesh because of their goals for the country.
“Journalists in Bangladesh have been silenced by violence and intimidation for only one reason: they want to create a tradition of democratic accountability, good governance and transparency,” he said.
He dedicated his award to those in Bangladesh who have also sacrificed to further the press’ freedom to report.
“I think this award is not only for me, but for all those journalists in Bangladesh who have suffered while exercising their duty to inform the public,” he said. “On this special day, I also remember those journalists in Bangladesh who have been permanently silenced.”