Bangladesh turning into a ‘Red Zone’ for Journalists

    Bangladesh turning into a ‘Red Zone’ for Journalists

    /Stop killing “dissent” in Bangladesh

    Killing bloggers in Bangladesh is killing change

    Das, a Bangladeshi secular blogger is the 20th of the writers silenced globally this year, according to the CPJ statistics. – Bangladesh is ranked – 13th globally with at least 16 journalists killed since 1992. Das, meanwhile, was said to be the editor of Jukti—(which literally means “logic” in the local language) a scientific magazine, and also contributed to the blog Mukto Mona, which was run by Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi blogger, who too was hacked to death in February. Das is the third blogger killed in Bangladesh.

    – This year, in March, a blogger, Washiqur Rahman Babu, – was killed in Dhaka the capital of Bangladesh, in a similar attack. – The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international body, said that the blogger “wrote about religion, science, and against communalism, mainly on Facebook.”

    Assailants with cleavers and machetes on Tuesday hacked yet another blogger in Bangladesh Das’ to death. – He is the third one silenced this year. He used to post opinion pieces online critical of Islam. In each case, the attacks were carried out publicly on city streets.

    Another blogger killed in Bangladesh earlier this year used Facebook as his medium, the committee said.

    The committee said that Ananta Bijoy Das, who wrote about science and railed against religious fundamentalism, was killed Tuesday by four masked men in the northeastern city of Sylhet in broad daylight.

    Ananta Bijoy Das, 32, was killed on 12 May, 2015, Tuesday morning while en route to- a bank where he was an employee, police in Sylhet, a – northeastern in Bangladesh, – said. Four masked men attacked him, hacking him to death with cleavers and machetes, said Sylhet Metropolitan Police Commissioner Kamrul Ahsan.

    The murderers ran away. There were just a few eyewitnesses to the incident as the murderers had chosen morning time when the rush is thinner. – However, police say they are following up on quizzing the few people who witnessed the incident. Imran Sarker, the head of the Blogger and Online Activists Network in Bangladesh while commenting on the dilemma of bloggers killing, said it is one after another after another.

    The biggest problem is the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act that severely restricts the right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh. This act has resulted into enforced disappearance of citizens, police brutality and hazardous workplaces in the factories of Bangladesh as per Amnesty International’s 2014/15 annual report. The report said dozens of people forcibly disappeared. Journalists and human rights defenders continued to be attacked and harassed. Violence against women is a major human rights concern.

    In Bangladesh,  police enjoy impunity, furthermore torture and other ill-treatment is widespread and police is routinely torturing detainees in their custody.

    The report added the torture methods included beating, suspension from the ceiling, electric shocks to the genitals and, in some cases, shooting detainees’ legs. The reports said at least one person was executed with no right to appeal against his death sentence.

    The government’s use of Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act severely restricted the right to freedom of expression. Under this section, those convicted of violating the Act could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison if the charges were brought against them before 6 October 2013. At that time, an amendment not only increased the maximum punishment to 14 years in prison but also imposed a minimum punishment of seven years.

    Section 57 of the ICT Act criminalized a wide array of peaceful actions such as criticizing Islamic religious views in a newspaper article or reporting on human rights violations. At least four bloggers, two Facebook users and two officials of a human rights organization were charged under Section 57 of the ICT Act during 2013-2014. They included bloggers Asif Mohiuddin, Subrata Adhikari Shuvo, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Rasel Parvez, and human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan.

    Dozens of media workers- said that they had been threatened by security agencies for criticizing the authorities. The threats were directly given to journalists -through phone calls – and also via messages to their editors. Many journalists and talk show participants said they exercised self-censorship as a result.

    Freedom of expression was also threatened by religious groups. At least in 10 instances, these groups were reported to have spread rumors that a certain individual had used social media to insult Islam, or had engaged allegedly in anti-Islamic activity in the workplace.

    At least five people were subsequently attacked. Two were killed and others sustained serious injuries. The two killed were Ahmed Rajib and a Rajshahi University teacher, AKM Shafiul Islam, who died of stab wounds in November 2014, allegedly perpetrated by members of a group who denounced his opposition to female students wearing burqa in his class as “un-Islamic”.

    Religious fundamentalist groups have emerged as an increasing threat to the safety of journalists and online activists and as a force against pluralism, gender equality, non-violence, and diversity.

    At present, the most significant threat to freedom of expression online in Bangladesh is the targeting by authorities of individuals who take to the internet to voice critical opinions. In general, citizens are technically able to do what they like online but it does not mean these restraints will have no effects. On the contrary, netizens and  clicktivists are facing significant risk if they cross certain lines in their online posting such as calling for protests, investigating official and non-official corruption or criticizing the high officials of the government.

    – Bangladesh is politically a highly polarized – country.  – Collectively, all these factors, pose a serious threat for human rights activists who attempt to promote freedom of expression online or offline without undertaking the local political context, history and culture. At present the most significant obstacle to freedom of expression online which must be addressed are: content blocking, access to the internet, violation of the right to privacy, hate speech, surveillance and the intimidation of individuals who take to the internet to voice -opinions critical of the executive and judiciary.

    Despite of guarantee by the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh as its Article 32 clearly states that “no person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty, save in accordance with the law,” but torture and extrajudicial killing are common phenomenon in Bangladesh and it is continuing. All this is happening despite repeated assurances to stop.  Since the declaration of ‘zero’ tolerance on torture and extrajudicial killings by the government during the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, around 281 people were killed without judicial procedure and 34 people torture at the hand of law enforcement agencies which is more alarming. Recently, the government passed a law criminalizing torture, -, but so far the law has yielded no positive results. . Most of the times, the law enforcing agencies denied any knowledge about the disappearances.

    In recent years, involuntary disappearances are on the rise as a result of this new trend in Bangladesh. People are abducted and disappeared from various places in broad daylight by – men claiming to be members of law enforcement agencies. Some are recovered as dead after they were their abductions. In many cases, families of the missing persons claim that law enforcing agencies picked up the victims.

    Though the judicial system in Bangladesh is independent in written, however the judiciary especially the court is not absolutely independent in practice. Under these circumstances, there is a need for a vigorous internet freedom strategy which would establish the political, social, cultural, environmental, institutional and professional conditions to guarantee internet freedom for every citizen of Bangladesh.

    By The Editorial Board of The Oslo Times

    All Rights Reserved with The Oslo Times


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