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UK report: Political and media freedoms restricted in Bangladesh

  • Published at 03:53 pm July 8th, 2021
Freedom of press Journalist
Representational Photo Bigstock

Last year was also marked by continued violence against women and children, extra-judicial killings and attacks on religious minorities

Political and media freedoms remained restricted in Bangladesh in 2020 with no overall improvement in the human rights situation as compared with the previous year, according to a report published by the United Kingdom government on Thursday.

Key concerns with respect to Bangladesh included further restrictions of freedom of expression, including the use of the Digital Security Act (DSA) to suppress criticism of the government’s Covid-19 response, and continued violence against women and girls, says the Human Rights and Democracy Report 2020 prepared by the UK Office of Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs.

The report says Dhaka City Corporation elections in February were marred by widespread allegations of voter intimidation and attacks on opposition candidates. The government criticized the UK High Commission and other diplomatic missions for observing the elections. There were further incidents of violence and allegations of intimidation and voter suppression during the by-elections in November.

Also Read- Bangladesh slips by one notch to 152 in World Press Freedom Index

In March 2020, opposition leader Khaleda Zia was released from prison following a government decision to suspend her sentence for six months on the condition that she would receive medical treatment at home and not travel abroad. She remained under house arrest in Dhaka throughout 2020, following an extension to her suspension in September.

Local human rights groups estimated that law enforcement agencies were responsible for 225 extra-judicial killings, including “crossfires” and incidents of torture. In August, following the killing of a retired army officer by police, extra-judicial killings received unprecedented public attention and the number reported dropped. 

There were at least 31 reported cases of enforced disappearances. Two executions were reported, and 218 death sentences were handed down, compared with 327 in 2019.

Media freedom remained under pressure. Bangladesh dropped to 151 (out of 180) in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index, its lowest ever position. According to NGO Article 19, 198 cases were brought under the DSA against 451 individuals. 

Seventy-five journalists were charged in 41 cases, and at least 32 journalists were arrested

Also Read- OP-ED: No push-button to achieve press freedom

While the government continued to give strong support to religious freedom, religious minorities, including Ahmadiyya Muslims and Hindus, reported that they had been targeted by extremists who used Section 28(2) of the DSA (hurting religious sentiment) to file cases against them.

Violence against women remained a major problem. Local human rights groups reported that 1,627 women had been raped. Human rights activists blamed the absence of effective law enforcement, exacerbated by Covid-19, for the increase in cases of rape.

The report recognized and commended the fact Bangladesh continued to host around 860,000 Rohingya refugees in its Cox’s Bazar district.

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