‘Suppression of opinion rising during COVID-19 pandemic’

‘Suppression of opinion rising during COVID-19 pandemic’

Fourteen-year-old Mohammad Rafiq (not real name) posted a Facebook status about the hike of cell phone call rates, criticising prime minister Sheikh Hasina

Immediately after that, he posted an apology and deleted the earlier post.

However, the police sent him to Gazipur Juvenile Correction Centre after arresting him in a case filed by local Jubo League leader under the Digital Security Act.

The act has been formulated to mainly protect the government and its various organisations. There is no necessity of this act, he observed.

Lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua

Fifteen-year-old Mohammad Karim (not real name) is in the same centre after being arrested in a case filed by local police under the same act. He was charged with ridiculing the Prophet (sm) and the prime minister on Facebook

Karim is a resident of Jamalpur district and this incident took place in May. Rafiq lived in a village of Mymensingh and the incident took place in June.

Police also arrested two graduate students in connection with Karim’s incident.

In the first six months of this year, people of different classes and professions including varsity teachers, journalists, cartoonists and writers have been arrested on charges of writing, commenting or sharing photos on the social media.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many cases have been filed for criticising weaknesses in medical treatment facilities or misappropriation of relief.

Analysing these cases filed under the DSA, it is evident that the common people have been harassed and dissenting opinions and criticism are suppressed.

The purpose of this law is to protect the government from criticism. The government may punish some people, but it is being distanced from the people. The government should revoke the act for its own sake.

Eminent lawyer Shadeen Malik

News of 109 cases has been published in over seven dailies in the first six months of this year.

According to police headquarters, 403 cases have been filed under the DSA in five months of the current year while 353 people have been arrested.

Last year a total of 732 cases were filed while 607 people were arrested.

Eminent lawyer Shadeen Malik said the purpose of this law is to protect the government from criticism. The government may punish some people, but it is being distanced from the people, he said, adding that the government should revoke the act for its own sake.dailies and websites of several regional papers between January and June.

Most of these cases were filed on charges of ‘harsh remarks’ ‘defaming statements’ sharing tampered photos’ ‘spreading rumours’ and ‘conspiracies against the government’.

Allegations were mainly raised by the government, public representatives and ruling party leaders. As a profession, journalists are highest among the arrested. In last six months, a total of 21 cases have been filed against 34 journalists. Some 17 journalists have been arrested.

Cases under this act are increasing to display the power of the ruling quarter. Repression and harassment will increase further in the future.

Faruq Faisel, regional, Article 19, Bangladesh and South Asia,

Police and ruling Awami League leaders are the plaintiffs in 90 per cent of the cases.

Former chief commissioner and professor of journalism, Golam Rahman, said recommendations were made to amend some sections of the act while formulating it, but that has not carried out yet. Now it is being seen that anybody is being sued and arrested under the act, he lamented.

Law minister Anisul Huq said the government will look into whether the act is misused. The persons responsible would not be spared, he added.

Lawyer Jyotirmoy, however, said the act has been formulated to mainly protect the government and its various organisations. There is no necessity of this act, he observed.

On 14 June, Sirajam Munira, a lecturer at Bangla department of Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur, was arrested. Three days later, assistant professor at Computer Science and Engineering Department of Rajshahi University, was arrested.

A youth was arrested in Satkhira and an Imam was arrested in Habiganj. Shahjalal Science and Technology University (SSTU) administration filed a case against a student.

These five cases were filed under the DSA for making criticism on Facebook after the death of former health minister and Awami League leader Mohammed Nasim.

Local journalist Mahtab Uddin Talukdar was arrested on 4 May for posting a harsh remark on the Facebook about Sunamganj-2 constituency lawmaker Moazzem Hossain.

General secretary of Selboros union at Dharmapasah upazila, Benuar Hossain Khan filed the case.

The law minister said it is not unfair to file a case against the person who is spreading false information.

International human rights organisation Article 19 monitors the cases filed under the DSA in Bangladesh.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, regional director of Article 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, Faruq Faisel, said cases under this act are increasing to display the power of the ruling quarter. Repression and harassment will increase further in the future, he warned.

*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo, print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.

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