The Commonwealth Journalists Association has expressed acute concern at the passage by the Bangladesh parliament of the Digital Security Act. A statement issued in Delhi calls it a draconian step which bodes ill for human rights and free expression in Bangladesh. “It is deeply regrettable that the measure has been enacted after serious questions have already been raised regarding persistent abuse of Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which the DSA replaces,” the statement says.
“This new attempt to muzzle free expression in Bangladesh comes at a time of heightened concern over the continued detention in Dhaka of the acclaimed Bangladeshi photojournalist Shahidul Alam under Section 57 of the ICT Act. In solidarity with all those, in Bangladesh and internationally, who have raised their voices against the arrest of Dr. Alam, the CJA appeals to the Government of Bangladesh to have all charges against him withdrawn and to facilitate his return to freedom and dignity.
“The CJA deplores the manner in which Dr. Alam was arrested at his home following an interview with a foreign television channel about the recent student protests in Bangladesh demanding safer roads and disciplined traffic movement. It also notes that Section 57, under which he was detained, is part of the ICT Act which was promulgated in 2006 and toughened in 2013 to the detriment of freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Before the passage of the Digital Security Act on Wednesday, the government had failed to address demands from broad sections of citizens in Bangladesh for the ICT Act to be annulled. The adoption of the DSA shrinks the space for free expression in Bangladesh even further.
“Appeals for bail for Shahidul Alam filed by his lawyers have been rejected, despite many calls for his release at home and abroad. His need for medical treatment as a result of the torture to which he was reportedly subjected in police custody has not been satisfactorily met and he continues to languish in prison.
“The CJA calls on the Government of Bangladesh, in the larger interest of democracy and rule of law, to take speedy measures to correct the wrong done to Dr. Shahidul Alam and to release him. At the same time, the CJA urges the government to rethink the Digital Security Act and create an environment that will allow the people of Bangladesh the liberty to exercise their right of free expression as underwritten by the country’s original constitution.”