The controversial Digital Security Act 2018 is being used to silence critics in disguise, it said
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, opacity in the action plan, acute lack of coordination at the policy-making level and sheer absence of accountability are deepening the crisis in Bangladesh.
At the same time, the right to information and freedom of expression are experiencing unprecedented repression.
ARTICLE 19, the UK based international organization that works to protect freedom of expression and the right to information issued a press release in this regard on Sunday.
In its press release titled “Covid-19 and Violations of Freedom of Expression: Bangladesh Situation Analysis” on the World Press Freedom Day 2020, it said frontline healthcare workers themselves are being subjected to administrative harassment for questioning the opacity and quality of the medical management of Covid-19.
On the one hand, while journalists are reporting massive irregularities and corruption in the distribution of relief, on the other hand, the government is further restricting the scope for journalists to gather information about Covid-19 response process.
The release also said the controversial Digital Security Act 2018 is being used to silence critics in disguise of dealing with the emerging situations.
Instead of taking effective measures to prevent rumors, fake news, misinformation, hate speech, the government is cracking down on those who are criticizing its handling of the ongoing crisis on social media.
Citizens’ discontent is growing; so is the government’s oppression of critical voices, it added.
Faruq Faisel, Bangladesh and South Asia regional director for ARTICLE 19 presented the highlights of the report at a virtual event titled “International Media Forum” on Saturday on the eve of World Press Freedom Day 2020.
The event, held at 8 pm Bangladesh local time, was attended by human rights defenders, journalists and media experts from Brazil, the UK, France and Bangladesh through video conference.
Barbora Bukovska, senior director for Law and Policy, ARTICLE 19 International Office in the UK; Denise Dora, regional director of ARTICLE 19 Brazil, Kazi Reazul Hoque, immediate past Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh (NHRCB) and Mizanur Rahman Khan, joint editor of Prothom Alo spoke online as panelists.
Freedom of expression violated
The press release added ARTICLE 19 was closely monitoring the situation in Bangladesh since the preparedness was on to deal with the coronavirus.
The first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the country on March 8. ARTICLE 19’s report analyzed the situation between the period from March 8 to April 8.
During this time, a total of 157 cases were monitored which were recorded in 20 categories, including expression of opinion, right to information and transparency, irregularities in the distribution of relief, and violence against journalists.
A total of 174 people have been either affected, victimized or their rights got violated in these incidents.
There have been 41 incidents of violation of the right to expression alone. The number of victims of these incidents is 139 people, most of whom are general Facebook users.
Criticizing the decision of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) for blocking the Q/A session for journalists at daily corona briefings, Faisel said: "It will not bring any good result at the end of the day. Instead, this is raising concerns, doubt and lack of trust among the public."
He called on the government to allow journalists to ask questions at the briefing for further details, disclose all information including stock of coronavirus diagnosis kit, centre wise daily figures of sample tested, stockpiling and distribution of PPE.
The speakers shed lights and agreed on the fact that all minorities and marginalized communities, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender, occupation etc, are the most vulnerable to get infected, discriminated as well as targeted for “Hate Speech” during this pandemic.
They called upon all governments to formulate a robust and holistic action plan to tackle this global crisis.