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Digital Security Act: More journalists facing arrest, cases amid hard days of Covid-19 crisis

  • Published at 10:05 pm May 7th, 2020
Laws such as the DSA are no good
Representational photo Bigstock

At least nine journalists have been arrested in cases filed under the DSA since March 8

Journalists in Bangladesh are increasingly enduring arrest and imprisonment amidst a fresh bout of cases galore filed against them under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA).    

At least nine journalists have been arrested in cases filed under the DSA since March 8, the day Bangladesh reported the first three Covid-19 positive cases. And the number of journalists facing DSA cases has gone as high as 22 this year. 

They are being accused in DSA cases mostly on allegations of covering or publishing ‘objectionable’ news-reports or social media posts 'tarnishing' the images of people having socio-economic, political clouts.   

On Wednesday night, three journalists in Barguna were arrested under a DSA case, that had accused them of defaming a woman and her mother through a Youtube channel. The following day a court in the district turned down their bail pleas and sent them to jail.   

Just the previous day, a local correspondent of a private television channel and editor of a newspaper in Sunamganj, Mahtabuddin Talukdar, was sent to jail in a case filed under the DSA in connection to a social media post.

Journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, who went missing about two months ago after being named in a DSA case, was sent to jail hours after he was found near the border with India on May 3. 

Also Read - News Analysis: Where the press isn’t free, no one is

He disappeared a day after being sued by a ruling party lawmaker in a Digital Security Act case over a report on the alleged escort services operated by ruling party activist Shamima Noor Papia.

The journalist was also facing three more DSA cases-- all filed in Dhaka, said his lawyer.

On May 2, three local journalists-- Ramjan Ali Pramanik, Shanta Banik and Shaon Khondoker Shahin were arrested in Narsingdi for publishing a report on a CNG-run auto-rickshaw driver’s sudden death on April 29, after being accosted by police near Ghorashal Police Outpost for ‘breaching’ lockdown rules. 

They, too, were denied bail, thus, landing in jail. 

On April 14, police arrested Golam Sarwar Pintu, a journalist of Dainik Bangladesher Alo, in a DSA case filed with Badda Police Station.

He covered a news report regarding a protest reportedly carried out by those deprived of relief amid the lockdown.

Until May 6 this year, as many as 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the DSA, shows an estimate of UK-based rights group  Article 19.

Some 63 cases were filed under this law across the country in 2019 and 34 cases the year before, it says.

At least 38 journalists were implicated in DSA cases last year, a study of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists said. 

Also Read - Editors’ Council expresses concern over arrests of journalists under DSA

Ever since the law was enacted back in September 2018, there have been growing concerns among different quarters, especially mass media and rights groups, that it would obstruct the freedom of speech and might be used as a legal tool to repress dissenting voices.   

On 27 April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published a report on the repression and harassment of journalists in Bangladesh during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report said that since the beginning of the emergency holiday in Bangladesh on 25 March, at least 9 journalists were physically attacked and six face charges under the DSA for collecting or publishing news on misappropriation of relief materials.

The High Court on February 24 this year issued a rule asking the authorities concerned to explain why sections 25 and 31 of the DSA should not be declared illegal and unconstitutional.

Even several ruling party leaders and many officials in the government, including the law minister himself, at times, said loopholes in it would be removed. But the pledges have not been kept as yet.  

Mentionable, Bangladesh came 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index--one notch down from the 2019 ranking.

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