Arrests, assaults and cases against journalists hampers freedom of expression, says the UK-based organization
ARTICLE 19 has expressed deep concern over the widespread filing of cases and arrests of journalists under the Digital Security Act (DSA) across Bangladesh for writing reports on corruption and posting opinion on social media.
“Freedom of expression is crushed due to this controversial law. Without freedom of expression, freedom of thought dies,” the UK-based international rights group said through a statement on Monday.
At least 38 DSA cases have been filed in the first three months this year, and among the accused, five are journalists, according to ARTICLE 19, which collects information on the cases in Bangladesh from the media and its own sources.
A ruling party MP has been accused of attacking the office of “Amar Habiganj” newspaper for publishing news on land grabbing recently. Besides, the mayors of two city corporations filed cases under the DSA against two journalists.
Journalist Abu Tayyab Munshi from Khulna has been arrested for sharing a news report about the mayor of Khulna City Corporation on Facebook on April 21. He is still in jail. Similarly, the mayor of Rangpur City Corporation has sued journalist Ratan Sarkar for his Facebook post. Ratan said he was concerned about his safety and security, the statement reads.
ARTICLE 19 condemned these arrests, assaults and cases against journalists. At the same time, the organization called for immediate and unconditional release of the arrested journalist, withdrawal of the cases filed against them and a proper trial for the attack on the newspaper office.
Faruq Faisel, regional director of ARTICLE 19 for Bangladesh and South Asia, said: "Irregularities and corruption in the construction of various government facilities have been reported in newspapers for several years. But no visible investigation has taken place against these corruptions. On the contrary, the DSA is being used to cover up investigation into these incidents.”
The misuse of the DSA had increased during the time of Covid-19 crisis in Bangladesh, leaving ARTICLE 19 concerned, Faruq said.
"It appears that the DSA is designed to harass journalists, free thinkers and general public," he said.
This law should look at cybercrime and digital financial security issues, instead of interfering with the citizen’s freedom of expression. Had it been applied properly, writer Mushtaq Ahmed would not have died in prison. The DSA must be reconsidered and reformed, the statement says.
Faruq Faisel said: “... Whatever needs to be done for the security of the journalists, it will have to be done; otherwise, opinions and truth will not be published, democracy will be disrupted and the government will not be held accountable.”
He also proposed that the government consult with the stakeholders to revise the DSA so that it could be used to strengthen democracy and make the government more credible.