A total of 631 incidences of attacks on journalists and human rights defenders took place in 2020, Article 19 in its annual report yesterday.
A total of 265 journalists were attacked in the process, said the rights body.
The report by the UK-based rights organisation also recorded three major incidents of blocking and filtering of online communications; 36 incidents of suppressing protesters by use of excessive force and six instances of hate crimes.
According to the report, about 16.32 percent attacks were assaults where 11 people sustained grievous injuries and 92 individuals suffered minor injuries while 47 people received threats.
In addition, 71.95 percent of the attacks on journalists and human rights defenders were legal harassment, where journalists and other communicators were implicated in various criminal cases for speaking out or expressing their views online.
Of these, 11 were criminal defamation cases, 410 were against online expressions. In four cases, communicators were subjected to contempt of court proceedings for being vocal on social media.
The rights body found that almost all the attacks against journalists were due to publication of news or, while they were doing their jobs on the field against corruption, irregularities of government officials or local criminal groups.
Article 19 said as many as 1,600 journalists lost their jobs in 2020 due to closure and loss of income of media outlets during the Covid-19 pandemic and that journalists and the media industry are still trying to cope with this financial burden of the pandemic one year on.
"Article 19 expresses serious concerns about the rising numbers of cases against journalists and online communicators under the DSA [Digital Security Act] and overall lack of security and protection of journalists and online activists and media workers," said Faruq Faisel, regional director of Article 19 (Bangladesh and South Asia).
Meanwhile, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has called for ensuring a conducive environment for free and professional media.
In a statement issued yesterday marking World Press Freedom Day today, TIB said the risk of professional and economic crisis of mass media and journalists has intensified during the pandemic.
Though the number of mass media has been increased step by step, political and business syndication and freedom of press from the DSA have become the barrier of professionalism and free flow of information, the statement said.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said Article 39 of the constitution of Bangladesh has ensured the freedom of thinking and conscience as well as the freedom of speech and expression of all citizens. It also ensured the freedom of press, he added.
But due to direct and indirect pressure from different sides, this constitutional right has become a document in a file, he said.
This failure to ensure freedom of press and professional protection of journalists makes the democratic foundation of the country weaker and it also hampers the rights to get non-partial information.
Businessmen are the owners of most media outlets. "Media Capture" has become institutionalised due to direct and indirect political involvement of this business community, said Iftekharuzzaman.
For this reason, in many cases professional journalists are also forced to hide news for their protection, he added.