Freedom of expression and Journalism in Bangladesh

Md Juman Hussan

Freedom of expression is a universal human right. In their day-to-day work, journalists are simply exercising every citizen’s right to free speech.

A free press is fundamental to a democratic society. It seeks out and circulates news, information, ideas, comment and opinion and holds those in authority to account. The press provides the platform for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. At national, regional and local level, it is the public’s watchdog, activist and guardian as well as educator, entertainer and contemporary chronicler.

The Bangladeshi authorities have intensified their assault on independent media and journalists in 2020, with an escalation in the use of the draconian Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA) during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Amnesty International on the second anniversary of the law’s inception.

Nearly 2000 cases have been filed under the DSA since its enactment on 8 October 2018, according to data from the Bangladeshi government’s Cyber Crime Tribunal. This includes more than 800 cases filed in the first nine months of 2020 alone, with many of the country’s most prominent editors and senior journalists being increasingly targeted. 

Abdul Hakim Shimul was gunned down by the Mayor of Shahadzadpur Municipality, Shirajganj, on 3 February 2017, in the north-eastern part of the country, whilst reporting on a clash between two factions of the student wing of the ruling party. The case is under investigation.

Xulhaz Mannan, editor of the first LGBT magazine Roopban and organiser of the 
annual “rainbow rally”, was murdered on 25 April 2016 in Dhaka, together with his 
friend Khandaker Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy. The investigation report into the murders 
has yet to be submitted.

Nazimuddin Samad was shot dead on a busy road in the capital Dhaka on 6 April 
2016. His Facebook postings on dogmatic Islamic views are thought to be the reason he was targeted.

In 2020, at least 10 editors of national and regional dailies and online news platforms have faced legal charges under the DSA, following critical reporting on leaders of the ruling Awami League party.
Shafiqul Islam Kajol, the editor of the Daily Pokkhokal, was forcibly disappeared on 10 March in Dhaka, a day after Awami League lawmaker Saifuzzaman Shikhor filed a case against Kajol under the DSA for sharing a Facebook post criticizing him. The editor of leading Bangla newspaper ManabZamin, Matiur Rahman and 30 people who shared the post on Facebook are also accused in the same case. Shafiqul Islam Kajol was only seen 53 days later, near the Bangladesh-India border town Benapole, and is currently in pre-trial detention facing two further charges under the DSA.
On 1 May, 2020,news editor of Dainik Grameen Darpan, Ramzan Ali Pramanik, staff reporter Shanta Banik and publisher and editor of online news portal Narsingdi Pratidin, Khandaker Shahin, were arrested over a news report on a custodial death at Ghorashal police station. Later that month, on 22 May, the editor of Amar Habiganj, Shushant Dash Gupta, was arrested by police in a DSA case for publishing a report implicating an Awami League leader in alleged corruption. Then, on 27 June, the editor of Bangla national daily Inqilab, AMM Bahauddin was sued under the DSA for publishing a story about an advisor to the prime minister.
“These journalists are being targeted simply for reporting on stories critical of the authorities and holding the powerful to account. The charges against them must be dropped and those detained must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Sultan Mohammed Zakaria.

Source: Amnesty International, Google. 

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