The Bangladeshi government has stifled freedom of expression by failing to protect dissenters and using repressive laws and tactics, London-based Amnesty International has said in a report.
“Not only is the government failing to protect people’s freedom of expression, it has been blaming them for the threats they face and criminalizing the work of bloggers and journalists through a slew of repressive laws.” said Amnesty’s Bangladesh researcher Olof Blomqvist. Journalists are afraid of crossing ‘red lines’, especially regarding criticism of the prime minister and her family, Amnesty said.
Awami League supporters filed a flurry of 83 politically motivated cases against Mahfuz Anam, the long-time editor of The Daily Star. Shafik Rehman, an elderly opposition supporter and the editor of the weekly Mouchake Dhil magazine, was held in solitary confinement for over three weeks on a trumped-up charge of “conspiring to abduct and assassinate” ruling party politician Sajeeb Wazed Joy.
Bangladesh’s authorities have frequently invoked archaic, colonial-era criminal defamation and sedition laws against critical journalists, according to the report. The Information and Communications Technology Act has been used to muzzle critics. The law has allowed the government to intimidate the media through threats and violence, Amnesty alleged.
Meanwhile speaking at a program at the Shilpakala Academy on Tuesday, Law Minister Anisul Huq said that the government has no intention of stifling freedom of expression, assuring that the controversial section of the ICT law will be scrapped.
He made the comment after UK-based Amnesty International accused the government of doing everything possible to stifle voices of dissent. The ICT Act was being used against freedom of expression, said the international rights group.
Section-57 of the 2006 law has come under many criticisms from media personalities and humanitarian workers for its potential for misuse.
The section says an individual can be jailed for seven to 14 years if he or she posts information online that is dishonest and defaming in nature. Fine of up to Tk 10 million can also be imposed. The government is about to draft a digital security law and incorporate the ICT law in it.
“There will be a new digital law which will give a clearer idea of Section-57. The law will also prove that the government has no intention to take away the freedom of expression.”