Freedom of expression increasingly restricted | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 01, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 08:52 AM, February 01, 2020

Freedom of expression increasingly restricted

Says Amnesty on rights situation in Bangladesh; lauds it on Rohingya issue

Bangladesh had a mixed record on human rights in 2019 as the country hosted a million refugees and achieved a little progress in realising economic and social rights while some freedoms remained under attack, says a report published by Amnesty International.   

The annual report titled “Human Rights in the Asia Pacific: Review of 2019” was published by the global rights group on Thursday.

It is available on AI’s website.

“The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were increasingly restricted through draconian laws that actively shrink the space for dissent. People in Bangladesh continued to be harassed and arrested for speaking out,” said Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, South Asia researcher at Amnesty International.

SHRINKING SPACE FOR DISSENT

Under the repressive Digital Security Act, at least 20 people were arrested and nearly 400 indictments were filed, the report says in its dedicated chapter on Bangladesh.

In February, five journalists were sued, including one who was detained and later released by the police for reporting on police corruption, it says.

Fear of reprisals and intimidation from intelligence forced journalists to self-censor, it adds.

The political opposition was not allowed to organise campaign meetings and political rallies in a violation of their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, it further says.

In October, Abrar Fahad, a student of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology was beaten to death at his dormitory “days after criticising the government’s agreement with India on Facebook,” the report said.

“Heavy-handed tactics employed by the student wing affiliated to the ruling party demonstrate they have little patience for people who disagree with their views and policies.

“The risks associated with exercising the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are becoming increasingly high in Bangladesh. The authorities must respect and protect people’s right to express and organise themselves without fear and repression,” said Zakaria.

VIOLENCE AND EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS

The report says last year more than 388 people were killed by the security forces in alleged extrajudicial executions, carried out as part of the country’s “war on drugs” campaign.

In some cases, victims were forcibly disappeared for months before they were killed in what the authorities claimed were “gunfights.”

In addition, at least 13 people were forcibly disappeared last year.

There were at least 4,732 reported incidents of violence against women and girls, including 2,448 rapes and 400 attempted rapes.

In September 2019, there were 232 reported cases of rape – the highest in a single month since 2010, it says.

THE ROHINGYA

Bangladesh continued to host nearly a million Rohingya refugees in camps in the Cox’s Bazar district.

In November, the wheels of justice for the Rohingya began to turn as the judges of the ICC authorised an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity and persecution committed by the Myanmar military.

However, the Rohingya faced many restrictions within Cox’s Bazar, including on their freedom of movement and access to education for children, says the report.

They were also the subject of a smear campaign within Bangladesh that portrayed them as a “burden” and even a threat to “national security”, it says.

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