Sumi Khan began working as a journalist in 1993 when she started freelancing for several national daily newspapers in Bangladesh. In 1999, she became a reporter for the Daily Jugantor in Dhaka. She had been there for less than a year when she published a report about a high-ranking official at an oil company who allegedly raped his maid. The businessman was friends with some of her editors at the Jugantor, and Khan was forced out of her job for writing the story. Other media also covered the story, but Khan believes that she was harassed because she was the only woman who reported it.
A month later, in 2000, Khan joined the staff of Shaptahik 2000 (Weekly 2000), a magazine known for its investigative reports and in June 2005 she joined the staff of the Daily Samakal in Dhaka. She is based in Chittagong, a city known for violent crime, kidnapping and extortion, where journalists are often assaulted and sometimes killed for reporting on sensitive topics. Khan reports on politics, crime, minority persecution, Islamic fundamentalism and corruption and is the only woman crime reporter in the city. In 2004, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Bangladesh the most dangerous country for journalists in Asia.
In 2002, Khan was arrested and held for 12 hours by police in Chittagong while they interrogated her about her knowledge of Muslim fundamentalist groups. Though she was not covering fundamentalist groups at the time, Khan feels that the interrogation was an attempt to stifle her reporting.
In April 2004, she began receiving threatening phone calls because of an article she wrote about local politicians and religious organizations and their ties to attacks on minority groups. According to reports from the Committee to Project Journalists, while Khan was on her way to her office to file a story, three unknown assailants attempted to abduct her from the rickshaw in which she was riding. They brutally beat and stabbed her, cutting her forehead, mouth and hands with knives as they shouted, “You have gone too far. You are very daring and you should not be!” Khan fought back and was briefly knocked unconscious. Two of her teeth were fractured and one was broken. Her hands were injured so severely that she was unable to move her fingers for a few weeks. She says it is still painful to write or hold objects. After the attack, Khan was bed-ridden for one month before she sought treatment for her injuries in India. When she returned to Chittagong, she began to ease herself back into her reporting. It was three months before she was able to return to full-time work.
Khan continues to work as a crime reporter and continues to receive threats. Most recently, she received a death threat from the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami fundamentalist party after she reported on the group’s ties to criminal and terrorist activities. Jamaat-e-Islami, along with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, is a member of the country’s ruling coalition.
According to Nayeemul Islam Khan, president of the Bangladesh Centre for Development, Journalism and Communication, Khan has challenged the odds by successfully working as a woman journalist in a male-dominated society. He estimates that women are only four percent of journalists in Bangladesh.
Sumi Khan is the first Courage in Journalism Award winner from Bangladesh.
- Courage in Journalism Awards Awardee, 2005