In the morning session of the last day of Dhaka Lit Fest 2017, titled “PEN: Measured Speech,” panelists discussed threats to freedom of speech faced by journalists, particularly in the Indian Subcontinent.
Responding to a question on disappearances among journalists, panelist Jyoti Malhotra, an India-based journalist with over 30 years of experience said: “I came to this panel to actually ask the question, where is Dr Mubashar Hossain? He has been missing since early November and nobody knows where he is.
“In democracies like yours and mine, India and Bangladesh, where are these people who speak up and write about things the government doesn't like?”
Dr Mubasher, who has been missing since November 7, is an assistant professor at North South University's School of Arts and Social Sciences since September last year after a brief stint at the media studies and journalism department of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).
Referring to the Indian state of emergency between 1975 to 1977, she said: “What is happening now is worse than the Emergency. There is an infamous quote from the time of that Indira Gandhi regime, where a minister said 'when we ask journalists to bow, they crawl.' These days, it seems that journalists aren't asked to bow but they are already crawling.”
“It is as if we are in the state of emergency, but it has not been declared,” she added.
Malhotra explained that this state of the media having to constantly operate on a “thin line” stemmed primarily from the use of anti-sedition laws such as section 57 of the ICT act in Bangladesh.
“Some of these laws actually contradict the section of the constitution that guarantees freedom of speech,” she said.
Other members of the panel included former publisher and John Makinson, Andrew Feinstein, CR Abrar, Justin Rowlatt and Sudeep Chakravarti.