Uphold freedom of expression
Nine foreign diplomats in Bangladesh have taken to social media, calling for upholding the freedom of expression and saying facts are more important than ever during any crisis to save lives.
"Access to reliable and fact-based information provided by free and independent media is vital to protecting public health everywhere," said US Ambassador Earl R Miller in a tweet on Thursday.
"Amid the C-19 crisis, it is essential that freedom of expression is upheld and that the voices of journalists are not restrained," he said.
The call came at a time when cases are being filed against journalists and free thinkers for expressing their critical views.
Eleven people, including a cartoonist, two journalists, and a writer, were charged with "spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities" under the Digital Security Act on Wednesday.
Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, Didarul Islam, a member of politico-civic organisation called Rashtrachinta, and Minhaj Mannan Emon, managing director of BLE securities, were sent to jail.
The filing of cases and the arrests came hot on the heels of the imprisonment of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol and several others arrested under the Digital Security Act since the shutdown began on March 26.
Kajol is facing three cases under the Digital Security Act for sharing a news link on his Facebook page about ruling party lawmaker Saifuzzaman Shikhor's alleged links to an infamous female Jubo League leader.
Placing emphasis on access to reliable information provided by independent journalists, UK High Commissioner Robert Chatterton Dickson said, "Amid the C-19 crisis, it is even more important that freedom of expression is upheld and the media can do its job."
Japanese Ambassador Naoki Ito, Norwegian Ambassador Sidsel Bleken, and Canadian High Commissioner Benoit Préfontaine also made similar tweets stressing the need of freedom of speech and making sure that voices of journalists are not limited.
Ambassador and Head of EU Delegation to Bangladesh Rensje Teerink said in times of crisis, press freedom is more important than ever.
"People need to have access to reliable and fact-based information. While fake news can become a serious issue, journalists should be allowed to carry out their work unmuzzled in a free and independent way."
German Ambassador Peter Fahrenholtz said media are really important, especially in difficult times. They inform the public, through criticism they contribute to improving the performance of the administration, etc., he tweeted.
Swedish Ambassador Charlotta Schylter tweeted: "More than ever we need facts, more than ever we need #pressfreedom. Amid the #Covid19 crisis, it is essential that freedom of expression is safeguarded and that the voices of journalists are not restrained."
Dutch Ambassador Harry Verweij said the Netherlands and the European Union support free and independent journalism. Access to facts and information provided by free media are vital everywhere especially in times of crisis. "Facts are life savers!"
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday termed statements posted on social media by some diplomats on media freedom issue "unfortunate, disappointing, and unacceptable".
"They could have told us following diplomatic norms if they have anything to say," he told UNB.
Momen said he spent a long time in the US and he had never seen such an approach from diplomats there.
"We are running our country in our own way. I am very upset. This is very disappointing. This is very regrettable. This is not good at all," he said.
The foreign minister said freedom could not be honoured unless there is responsibility. He said Bangladesh would have been happy if the diplomats had said something on cancellations of RMG export orders or safety and support for Bangladeshi expatriates living abroad and ensuring their jobs for at least six months.