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19th-May-2019

Assault on freedom of speech

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THE New York-based Human Rights Watch on Friday slammed Bangladesh authorities following the recent arrests of some dignified persons under much-debated Digital Security Act. The HRW pointed finger about the raising worries among the common people over the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. According to media reports, poet cum journalist Henry Swapan, lawyer Imtiaz Mahmood and Human Rights Defender Abdul Kaium were arrested in the past few days, prompting social media outrage and protests in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country. However, Swapan and Mahmood were released on bail Thursday, but Kaium is facing detention with the charges of extortion and defamation.
Christian man Swapan was arrested on Wednesday after a Catholic Priest filed a case accusing him of hurting religious sentiments of the country's minority community. Barrister Mahmood had used his Facebook page to write about alleged crimes perpetrated against tribal people in the country's Chittagong Hill Tracts. Besides, Kaium, an official of Odhikar, was arrested for his unlawful activities.
Criticizing the arrest Asia Director of HRW said, "Bangladesh government should stop locking up its critics and review the law (Digital Security Act) to ensure it upholds international standards on the right to peaceful expression." In fact, these three were first major arrests by Awami League government after assuming in power for third consecutive term in January last through an election which opposition parties and critics have termed as flawed and rigged along with introducing mid-night casting.
What's true is that, the ruling government has been widely criticised for enacting the internet and digital security laws. The journalist community and civil society members have expressed fear that this law will be used against the dissents. Now, their fear has appeared to be true.  Several journalists have already been arrested and charged under this law.
A fearsome situation has been created in the country where not only the political opposition leaders and activists but also the people of other professions cannot express their views freely. From print and electronic media to social media facebook are under round-the-clock strict supervision of different agencies. We observe that, the law has undermined responsible journalism as well as squashed freedom of speech. In the greater interest of democracy and rule of law, we want scrap of this repressive law.