Journalists who reported irregularities and corruption in the health sector are being repressed
ARTICLE 19 on Monday expressed grave concern over the continuous violation of Bangladeshi citizens' rights to information during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UK-based rights organization has observed that there is a persistent lack of coordination and transparency in action planning, as well as an acute lack of accountability at the policy-making level which dealt with the first and second wave of the pandemic. This has exacerbated the crisis in the country.
Additionally, the right to information and freedom of expression are consistently suppressed by various government agencies, which goes against government goals to build a sustainable and inclusive society.
In a statement issued on the International Day for Universal Access to Information 2021, Faruq Faisel, regional director for ARTICLE 19 in South Asia said: ‘’The government has used various excuses to curtail the right to information and the freedom of the media to an alarming level. Officials have often provided inaccurate and inconsistent information on health care, vaccination, and overall crisis management.”
He added: “Instead of acknowledging the reports of irregularities and corruption in the health sector published by the media, the government has repressed the media and journalists by misusing the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and the Digital Security Act (DSA) of 2018.”
ARTICLE 19 regularly monitors and records the violations of freedom of expression through monitoring the media. It has recorded 172 cases filed under the DSA from January 2021 to August 2021.
Three hundred and eight people of different classes and professions have been charged in these cases, out of which 41 are filed against journalists. Of the accused, 114 were arrested immediately, and many are currently awaiting bail.
In 2020, some 197 cases were filed against 368 individuals. Earlier, the number of cases recorded in 2019 and 2018 was 63 and 34 respectively.
As the trials have not been completed, most of these victims are still in custody and harassed.
Furthermore, Faruq Faisel spoke of the citizens' right to obtain information, and of the protection and privacy of their private data.
“There are often disturbing incidents involving eavesdropping on private phones and disclosure of secret phone conversations. On top of that, there is a growing fear that the proposed Personal Data Protection Act will be used to suppress dissent in the name of protecting personal data," he added.
There is no alternative to ensuring the right to information and freedom of expression to achieve one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 17 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).
Faruq Faisel said: "The constitution of Bangladesh protects the right to information and fundamental freedoms of the people. Bangladesh is also a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
“We once again call on the government to strive to fulfill these commitments made by Bangladesh at the national and international levels.”