Controversial digital law would limit press freedom in Bangladesh

Dhaka, Bangladesh

A top Bangladeshi journalist has been fighting for justice for more than two years in a case brought by the government under the country’s controversial Digital Security Act (DSA).

Rashidul Islam is one of dozens of journalists indicted under the law, which was passed by the government in October 2018, just two months before the country’s general elections.

Human rights defenders and experts say the law contains vague provisions. One of the clauses of the law on “digital or electronic fraud” states: “If a person commits fraud by means of any digital or electronic medium, that activity of that particular person will constitute an offense under the law” .

Islam was formally indicted as part of a story about the election results of the southeastern district of Khulna in the 2018 election. He said his story was based on the district administrative chief’s statement, but that this was not enough to satisfy the government.

In one constituency, there were 22,419 more votes than the total number of eligible voters, indicating overall irregularity and staffing, he said, adding: “I have a record of the announcement of the results. “

He added that the results were altered in the government’s written sheets the next morning.

Despite having written another updated report, Islam told Anadolu news agency that “the district administration has filed a complaint against me and another journalist for producing false, fabricated and provocative information “.

“The police arrested my colleague Hedait Hossain Mollah, and I went into hiding for 22 days before getting bail,” he said, adding, “It was the most stifling time of my life.

“It is a black law,” Mohammad Abdullah, president of a local journalists’ union, told Anadolu news agency, calling for the release of journalists charged under the law, comparing its provisions to “asking a swimmer to swim after his hands and legs have been tied up. “

Abdullah said the government repeatedly abuses these provisions of the law only to harass journalists and critics.

Press freedom day

“At least 247 journalists were reportedly subjected to attacks, harassment and intimidation by state officials and others affiliated with the government of Bangladesh in 2020,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement issued on Monday on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

According to the rights group, more than 900 cases have been filed under “the draconian digital security law”, with nearly 1,000 people prosecuted and 353 arrested, many of them journalists.

“Media critical of the ruling Awami League party is frequently censored,” he added.

The act is used “to harass and indefinitely detain journalists, activists and other government critics, which has a chilling impact on the freedom to dissent,” the statement said.

“The UN and donors should continue to take every opportunity to call on the government to repeal the digital security law and release all those detained under this law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said in a separate statement that the media in Bangladesh has become “government property” despite the fact that the theme for this year’s Press Freedom Day is “Information in as a public good ”.

“Due to the failure of professional journalism in Bangladesh, not only growth but also people’s trust in the media is interrupted,” said Dr Iftekharuzzaman, Executive Director of TIB.

The government blames the media

Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, told Anadolu news agency that “journalists are not free to write and speak,” adding that most of the media are owned by various companies. business and politicians and “they, not professional journalists, control the media.”

“Media owners are gaining financial and political interests, and journalists are unwilling to risk losing their jobs,” said Chowdhury, a former journalist.

“Whenever a journalist is subject to the digital security law, we regularly see reports and complaints from advocacy organizations,” he said, “but we see no voice when dozens of journalists are fired or lose their jobs because of the owners. “

He said there was no government censorship and news houses applied their own restrictions.

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