The Human Rights Watch yesterday slammed Bangladesh authorities after some arrests this week under the country’s internet laws, raising worries over the freedom of expression in the nation.
Poet Henry Swapan, lawyer Imtiaz Mahmood and human rights defender Abdul Kaium were arrested in the past few days, prompting social media outrage and protests in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere.
Swapan and Mahmood were released on bail Thursday, but Kaium remained in detention and faces charges of extortion and defamation under the digital security law.
These were first major arrests since the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took power in January for a third term in a row after an election opposition parties and experts said were flawed and rigged.
Hasina’s government, which has been in power since 2009, has been criticised for enacting internet and digital security laws that many fear were being used to crackdown on dissent.
“The Bangladesh government should stop locking up its critics and review the law to ensure it upholds international standards on the right to peaceful expression,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a statement.
Swapan, a Christian, was arrested on Wednesday after a Catholic priest filed a case, accusing him of hurting religious sentiments of the country’s minority community.
Mahmood, a lawyer and an indigenous rights activist, has used his Facebook page to write about alleged crimes perpetrated against tribal people in the country’s Chittagong hill districts.
Kaium is associated with the prominent human rights organisation Odhikar, whose chiefs were charged with “publishing false images and information” and “disrupting the law and order situation of the country”.
“This week’s arrests show how small the space has become for civil society in Bangladesh,” Adams said.
“Sheikh Hasina’s government should revise the abusive elements of these laws before the space for peaceful expression disappears entirely.”
Last August Bangladesh replaced its internet laws, which were used heavily to arrest scores of opposition activists and dissidents, despite protests by journalists and rights groups.