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TIB: Digital Security Act curtailing freedom of expression

  • Published at 08:31 pm June 20th, 2020
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Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

The organization demands withdrawal of false cases and the release of wrongful arrests

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has expressed deep concern over the recent attacks, lawsuits, threats and intimidation against the people of the country in the name of digital security.

The victims of such injustice include professionals, including writers and journalists, who report various corruption and irregularities through news, cartoons or photographs, or social media.

The organization demanded the immediate and unconditional release of detainees,  stopping such undemocratic harassment.

In a press release published by TIB on Saturday, Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, recently many people, especially journalists, teachers, writers, cartoonists, social workers, and even health workers are being attacked, cases are being filed against them, and they are being let go from their jobs.

The only reason for this is them expressing their opinions or revealing irregularities in the healthcare system, relief distribution, and other activities amid the pandemic.

They are being convicted in cases of so called “spreading rumour,” “providing wrong information,” “criticizing the government,” “defamation,” and “murder threats.” 

Some are even being sent to jail in these cases. This not only curtails freedom of speech but is institutionalizing and normalizing such self serving acts.

He said: “I want to urge the authorities to prove the rumours wrong through their work and control corruption and irregularities on the basis of the disclosed information rather than hiding information and walking on the path of self service only. 

“We demand the withdrawal of these wrongful cases and the immediate release of those wrongfully arrested.”

Instead of solving the mystery of the disappearance of journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal he was arrested in a framed trespassing case. 

In this connection Dr Zaman said: "Such behavior in response to disclosing or criticizing corruption and irregularities is on the one hand contradictory to the prime minister's zero tolerance against corruption, and on the other, is against the constitutional right to free expression." 

Despite it being the responsibility of the state to take action against the accused by verifying the information published concerning corruption or irregularities, while ensuring the informant’s safety, it is the informant who is being punished.

 “It is not unusual for the question to arise as to whether the state is discouraging corruption or indulging in corruption,” Iftekharuzzamanadded.

Recent cases

Criticizing the over 50 cases and detentions against various individuals under the Digital Security Act this year, the TIB executive director said: "The state should have created an environment in which the media could publish information freely, impartially, and objectively. 

Because if there is a deficit in the normal disclosure or flow of information, rumors and mistrust will develop.

The greater the discrepancy between information controlled and published, and  the actual information, the greater the panic, crisis, and the risk of mismanagement.

According to media sources, since the beginning of 2018 to June this year, 180 journalists across the country have been sued under the Digital Security Act and Section 57. 

In 2019 alone, 38 journalists have been the victims of lawsuits, arrests, remands and harassment.

 Of the total 67 cases filed under the Digital Security Act since the coronavirus pandemic, 37 have been filed against journalists. 

In addition, a total of 88 people have been arrested in 79 incidents, including cartoonists and journalists, for allegedly spreading rumors and false information about the coronavirus on social media. 

The TIB considers the arrest and torture of journalists and other citizens in these cases to be a pathway to institutionalizing arbitrariness, violating the commitment to establish rule of law in a democratic country.