Amnesty International yesterday expressed deep concern over the recent arbitrary detention and other forms of harassment of artists who are facing increasing attacks on their right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
In a statement, the rights watchdog called on the Bangladesh authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all artists unlawfully detained, drop the charges against them, and guarantee people’s right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity, as enshrined in domestic and international laws.
Amnesty called on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore and writer Mushtaq Ahmed since they have been detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and drop all charges against film director Anonno Mamun, actor Shaheen Mridha, folk singer Rita Dewan, cartoonist Kishore, and writer Mushtaq.
It also called on the authorities to urgently repeal the Digital Security Act 2018 or substantially amend its repressive provisions.
The rights body said the right to freedom of artistic expression and creativity is enshrined both in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Bangladesh is a state party to both instruments.
In the 2013 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN Human Rights Council, Bangladesh accepted several recommendations concerning the right to freedom of expression.
However, instead of reforming the legal regime in accordance with the commitments made then, Bangladesh has further undermined the space for artistic freedom with the introduction of a more repressive and draconian law in 2018 — the Digital Security Act, Amnesty said.
“Bangladesh must uphold its obligations under international human rights law and guarantee the space of artistic and creative expression without the fear of retribution,” added the rights watchdog.
Last month, a Dhaka court issued an arrest warrant against Rita Dewan, a female folk singer, and her two daughters, in a case filed in February last year under the Digital Security Act.
Rita and her daughters were accused of “hurting religious sentiments”.
Rita was performing a Pala Gaan (a variant of local folk music festival where two folk singers engage in an extempore musical battle) in Tangail on February 1, 2020, and was debating with her colleague about the “Living Things Versus the Greatest”.
Since the musical show, a total of four cases have been filed against Rita on similar grounds — one was dismissed by a court, while three others are pending trial.
On 13 January this year, the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal granted Rita bail in one of the cases.
In May last year, Bangladesh police detained cartoonist Kishore and writer Mushtaq from their Dhaka residence under the Digital Security Act accusing them of “spreading rumours and misinformation on Facebook about the coronavirus situation” and “undermining the image of the Father of the Nation”, the “national anthem” or “national flag”.