Silencing Voices

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more
justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power,
would be justified in silencing mankind.”

- John Stuart Mill

By Sabria Chowdhury Balland | September 2020

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Bangladesh ranks 151st in 2020 out of 180 countries, thus falling five places in the World Press Freedom Index this year. Many Bangladeshi and international organizations have written to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asking her to take concrete actions in guaranteeing journalistic freedom. Journalists and cartoonists have been facing an alarming surge in physical and judicial attacks with relation to the Covid-19 crisis.

These organizations have also called upon the head of the government to amend the controversial and abusive Digital Security Act and draft a law which would provide protection for journalists and free speech. Given the very disturbing number of press freedom violations, it is feared that the country could fall further in the index next year.

What is this infamous Digital Security Act? To get an idea, this is what Amnesty International stated in 2018:

“Bangladesh’s new Digital Security Act is an attack on freedom of expression that is even more repressive than the legislation it has replaced. The vague and overly broad provisions of the new law could be used to intimidate and imprison journalists and social media users, silence dissent and carry out invasive forms of surveillance.The Digital Security Act criminalizes many forms of expression and imposes heavy fines and prison sentences for legitimate forms of dissent. It is incompatible with international law and standards and should be amended immediately.”

On July 1, 2020, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published an article titled Bangladesh: Repeal Abusive Law Used in Crackdown on Critics. In this article, HRW states that the “Bangladesh authorities are using the abusive Digital Security Act to harass and indefinitely detain activists, journalists and others critical of the government and its political leadership.”

Brad Adams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, says: “At a time when the government should be reducing the prison population to protect against the spread of Covid-19, they are locking people up simply for their comments on social media.”

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The writer is a teacher, political columnist and member of the US Democratic Party. She can be reached at sabriacballand

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