45 cases have been filed under the act in just the first four months of 2020, most of which were against journalists
ARTICLE 19, a British human rights organization focusing on the defence and promotion of freedom of expression, has called for immediate and unconditional release of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol from custody, who was arrested under Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in Jessore on May 3.
The organization expressed serious concern over the abuse of legal proceedings against Kajol, who had been missing for more than two months.
The international human rights organization observed: the handcuffing of a kidnapped citizen on the back, his re-arrest after being granted bail in a case by the court, abusing another law only to prevent his release, and blocking the family from visiting him in prison—all these happened on the same day in Kajol's case—clear violations of fundamental rights and the law.
ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns such proceedings.
In a statement sent to the media today, Mr Faruq Faisel, regional director for ARTICLE 19, Bangladesh and South Asia, said: “While the government is releasing prisoners to prevent the spread of coronavirus in prisons, there is no rationale in sending Kajol to jail now as Kajal is not accused in any heinous case like murder, rape, terrorism, militancy, or treason.’’
“There have been three lawsuits against him that are identical under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) 2018, only for expressing his views on Facebook,” he added.
“In at least one of the cases, the other accused have been released on bail. So the question which logically arises in people’s mind is why the authorities are so eager to put Kajol behind the bars,” Faisel further commented.
ARTICLE 19 has observed with worry that over the past few years, freedom of expression in Bangladesh has been steadily shrinking, and journalists and the media have been cornered by a series of lawsuits under the draconian DSA.
This trend is fostering a culture of fear, which is quite alarming for a free and independent media and democracy.
ARTICLE 19 has demanded the repeal of this draconian law.
In 2018, ARTICLE 19 recorded a total of 71 cases filed against practitioners of freedom of expression including journalists under the then section 57 of the ICT act and then newly enacted Digital Security Act which came into effect in October of the same year.
In 2019, the number of recorded cases initiated under the DSA was 63. From January to April 2020 this year, 45 cases have been recorded of this kind, most of which have been filed against journalists and media editors.
Most recently, on May 1, three journalists were arrested and sent to jail in a case filed by the police in Narsingdi under the act.
Meanwhile, according to media reports, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) handed over Kajol, the editor of Pakkhakal magazine, to Benapole Port police station after he was rescued at the border adjacent to Benapole Land Port at midnight on May 3.
A case was also filed against him there on charges of trespassing. Kajol was brought to Jessore from Benapole Port police station around noon on the day.
After questioning at the Detective Branch office of police, he was handcuffed on his back and taken to the court in the afternoon and the judge granted him bail.
Soon afterwards, the police took Kajol into custody at Kotwali police station and sent him to jail in the evening under section 54.
Kajol’s lawyers and family allege that they did not get a chance to appeal for bail against that arrest and were not allowed to meet Kajol in jail on the pretext of coronavirus fears.
Faruq Faisel said: “After Kajol went missing, his family filed a case of kidnapping. Therefore, where Kajol has been for more than two months, where he was taken, by whom and why, how he came to the Benapole border—these questions must be clearly answered immediately. There should be a proper investigation into Kajol's disappearance at this time and if anyone found involved, immediate action must be taken against them.”
Democracy in Bangladesh will be in danger if the government continues to patronize the impunity of crimes against journalists, Faisel commented.