Dhaka, Bangladesh – A minimum of 20 journalists in Bangladesh have been charged or arrested beneath the controversial Digital Safety Act (DSA) previously month, elevating issues about free speech within the South Asian nation.
Plenty of journalists have been arrested for social media posts important of the federal government or reporting on the federal government’s dealing with of the coronavirus pandemic.
Almost 60 circumstances have been filed towards greater than 100 folks, together with 22 journalists, beneath the DSA this yr till Might 6, in line with a examine by Article 19, a UK-based human rights physique.
Senior journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol disappeared on March 10, a day after a politician from the governing Awami League occasion filed a prison defamation case towards him for publishing “false, offensive, illegally obtained and defamatory” content material on Fb.
A governing occasion legislator, Saifuzzaman Shikor, filed a defamation case towards Kajol, a photographer and editor of the biweekly Pakkhakal journal, and 31 others, accusing them of linking him to escort providers run from a resort.
Kajol mysteriously turned up in police custody 53 days afterward India-Bangladesh border.
He has been slapped with three circumstances beneath the DSA, a legislation rights our bodies have described as “draconian”. Police have registered a fourth case towards Kajol for “trespassing” into his personal nation.
If punished, he faces seven years in jail.
One other high editor, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury, was additionally charged within the identical case.
‘A prisoner of conscience’
Amnesty Worldwide stated Kajol was detained for exercising his proper to freedom of expression. “Shafiqul Islam Kajol is a prisoner of conscience and have to be launched instantly and unconditionally,” the rights physique stated in an announcement launched on Might 6.
Monorom Polok, Kajol’s son, has pleaded for his father’s launch. “My father nonetheless hasn’t acquired the prospect to enchantment in entrance of a court docket because the courts are actually shut on account of COVID -19 lockdown,” Polok informed Al Jazeera.
“Out of humanity and out of kindness, we enchantment to our authorities to think about my father’s pr-existing well being circumstances and his psychological state and instantly launch him and drop all prices towards him,” he stated.
Journalists submitting studies important of the federal government’s measures to include the unfold of the coronavirus additionally appeared to have been focused.
On Might 6, not less than 11 folks, together with a cartoonist, two journalists, and a author, had been charged with “spreading rumors and finishing up anti-government actions”.
Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil, US-based journalist Shahed Alam and blogger Asif Mohiuddin even have circumstances towards them beneath DSA.
On the identical day, Didarul Islam Bhuiyan, a member of a politico-civic group, Rashtrachinta, was arrested for a Fb publish.
“My husband was not concerned in any prison acts, however he was picked up by plain-clothes individuals who recognized themselves as members of Speedy Motion Battalion (RAB),” Dilshan Ara, spouse of Bhuiyan, informed Al Jazeera.
“He’s harmless, who merely posted some write-ups on social media criticising the corruption within the reduction distribution course of; all of us have that proper to expression beneath the structure.
“We wish his instant launch, he might get uncovered to coronavirus contained in the jail.”
Police defend motion
Police officers have defended the circumstances towards journalists.
Masudur Rahman, Dhaka Metro Police deputy commissioner media, informed Al Jazeera that circumstances filed on Might 6 towards 11 folks, together with journalists, and Bhuiyan had been filed by paramilitary RAB for social media postings.
He affirmed that the police would examine the matter in accordance with the legislation. “Nevertheless, will probably be as much as the court docket to resolve their destiny in the long run. All of them have been despatched to Keranigonj central jail, pending a court docket listening to,” Rahman informed Al Jazeera.
Rights activists have expressed grave concern over the rising variety of circumstances being filed towards journalists and critics of the federal government. They are saying the DSA legislation is getting used to “gag media and freedom of expression”.
“We’re alarmed by nature and process adopted by authorities to prosecute folks in a number of the circumstances beneath The Digital Safety Act (DSA),” Saad Hammadi, South Asia campaigner for Amnesty Worldwide, informed Al Jazeera.
“When a police official’s justification for taking a DSA case towards somebody is predicated on solely the truth that a ruling occasion chief is aggrieved versus figuring out the need and proportion of the actions, it severely compromises the nation’s dedication to advertise and shield folks’s proper to freedom of expression,” he stated.
The UN Excessive Commissioner for Human Rights has referred to as on Bangladesh to urgently revise the DSA to make sure that it’s consistent with worldwide human rights legal guidelines.
Rising circumstances towards journalists
Greater than 1,000 circumstances have been filed in Bangladesh beneath the DSA because it was carried out in 2018.
Within the final two months, journalists have turn out to be extra weak, with many media shops asserting lay-offs on account of COVID-19 pandemic that has contaminated 25,121 and killed 370 folks within the nation of 160 million.
A gaggle of eminent residents and journalists unions have referred to as for the discharge of jailed media employees.
“Digital Safety Act will be helpful towards those that commit cybercrimes, however it shouldn’t be used towards journalists and media individuals,” Farida Yeasmin, common secretary of the Bangladesh Nationwide Press Membership, informed Al Jazeera.
The Bangladesh Editors’ Council (Sampadak Parishad) has additionally expressed grave concern over the latest circumstances towards journalists.
“No concern is being proven over the benefit of the complaints earlier than making arrests,” the Editors’ Council stated in an announcement.
Final month, Reporters With out Borders printed a report that not less than 9 journalists had been bodily attacked and 6 face prices beneath the DSA for accumulating or publishing information on misappropriation of reduction supplies.
The Paris-based media watchdog ranks Bangladesh 150 out of 180 international locations in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, a four-point drop from its 2018 rating.
— to www.aljazeera.com