September 20, 2021, 2:36 am
Online Desk :
Amnesty International has called for an end to interference with online freedom of expression, as well as for amendments or repeals of the Digital Security Act in line with international standards and human rights law.
The international human rights body made the call in a report titled “No Dissent” on Monday.
The report, which reviewed cases filed against 10 Bangladeshi nationals under the Digital Security Act, said they had been subjected to serious human rights abuses, such as detention and torture without trial, simply for criticizing those in power.
Amnesty International says at least 433 people have been arrested in Bangladesh under the Digital Security Act as of July 2021.
The human rights group said most of them had been arrested for making “false and offensive” statements online.
Among those arrested were journalists, cartoonists, singers, rights activists, entrepreneurs, students, and even a farmer who could not read or write, their report said.
Writer Mushtaq Ahmed, who was arrested in one of the cases, died there after 10 months in jail. Amnesty International has accused a prisoner of torturing her in prison.
Saad Hamadi, a campaigner for the group’s South Asia division, said the steps being taken by the authorities under the Digital Security Act show how dangerous it is to protest or disagree in Bangladesh. Such unjust restrictions on expression have spread panic in Bangladeshi society and narrowed the scope of work for independent media and civil society.
Saad Hamadi called for the release of those arrested “for exercising their right to freedom of expression only”.
The 2018 Digital Security Act also allows law enforcement to search, seize digital devices and make arrests without a warrant for sharing comments online.
Amnesty International says these issues are “violations” of the freedom of expression described in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Bangladesh has also signed.
“We would like to recall the recommendations made by the Bangladesh authorities during the Universal Periodic Review in May 2018 to take steps to bring all laws, including the Digital Security Act, in line with the ICCPR,” Hamadi said.
The report said that even before the Digital Security Act was enacted, UN special envoys had expressed concern over the draft. Several UN member states at the time called on the Bangladesh government to amend the law. Despite accepting these recommendations, the government has so far failed to deliver on those promises and has continued to interfere with freedom of expression.
In addition to Mushtaq Ahmed, cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, worker-farmer-student-Janata Oikya Parishad coordinator Ruhul Amin, Kishoreganj’s Bajitpur farmer Abu Zaman and Baul artist Rita Dewan are among those against whom the Digital Security Act cases have been reviewed in the Amnesty International report. Journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal, businessman Emdadul Haque Milon, Sunamganj local journalist Mahtab Uddin Talukder and Chittagong Metropolitan Women’s Party leader Dewan Mahmuda Akter Liter have been mentioned.
Amnesty International says there are serious flaws in the way defamation offenses are identified in the Digital Security Act. Through this, the law has been turned into a ‘tool to suppress dissent’.
Amnesty International has also called on the Bangladeshi government to prosecute defamation charges under civil law instead of criminal law.