Our myopia regarding press freedom requires a cure
The Digital Security Act has finally passed, and the country rejoices.
Not quite. What this means, essentially, is the existence of certain provisions within the legal framework which would allow the police and other law enforcement agencies to search and arrest without a warrant.
This means the press is in shackles. And, in a country like Bangladesh, where corruption has seeded itself into the national consciousness like an unkillable cancer, we all know where that leads.
While concerns over so-called rumours being spread around (as we saw with the recent student protests) might find legitimacy in certain spheres of the public and political domain, the price being paid to eradicate rumours is one which the nation (and the politicians themselves) might regret in the long run.
If one looks at the course of history, we know where laws which seek to “help” people in theory, but actually curb dissent and free speech in practice go: To that section of the history books which is meant to serve as a lesson for future proponents of autocracy.
The Digital Security Act renders what is essentially the biggest space of free thought and expression (not without its drawbacks, I admit) a useless void, where criticism and praise (dependent on who it is aimed at, and who has a grudge against you or just doesn’t like the cut of your jaw line) could very well lead to a pretty hefty fine and significant jailtime.
What is the purpose behind this? What exactly are those in power scared of?
How many more times must history be relived and reiterated before the sycophants are ignored so that those in power can truly see the world for what it is, and see their country for what it is?
While I understand that economic progress and all that disposable income are often enough to distract you from the crumbling state of human rights around you (you hit your kaajer meye every now and then anyway, so what use do you have for human rights anyway?), our myopia requires a cure.
Twenty-twenty is far more important when it comes to seeing your country for what it is than your nation’s cricketing team (which will continue to distract you with success and heartbreak -- and yes, I am aware that the current Asia Cup is being played in the ODI format).
Don’t be surprised if your Facebook newsfeed is now filled with more fluff than news and the occasional distant relative finds themselves being searched and harassed just because they gave a dodgy look to a police officer.
Don’t be surprised if your favourite newspaper’s praise for certain incumbent figures is more verbose than usual. Don’t be up in arms because you were just a little too comfortable in your upper middle class lifestyle and it was just easy to complain on social media about the state of affairs.
Not that one can blame you; we’ve all done the same, we’ve all been complicit.
Is this a slippery slope or a stepping stone? I suppose that depends on which side you’re on when there’s a swinging baton (and a motorcycle helmet to match).
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. Follow him @snrasul.