Just in the month leading up to World Press Freedom Day today, five journalists were sued under the Digital Security Act, according to voluntary research outfit Our Media, Our Rights.
A total of 24 journalists were sued under different laws in the month of April, it said in a statement yesterday.
Six of the plaintiffs had political backgrounds.
Five of the cases were filed for news reports and three for social media posts, found the group.
"Most of the cases were filed by ruling party lawmakers, or their men, after journalists shared news content on social media," said Ahammad Foyez, a journalist, who put out the research.
Last week, Article 19 said 38 DSA cases were filed in the first three months of the year, and five journalists were prosecuted.
It had also recorded 631 incidences of attacks on journalists and human rights defenders in 2020, according to its annual report.
A total of 265 journalists were attacked, said the organisation.
The report also recorded three major incidents of blocking and filtering online communications, 36 incidents of suppressing protesters by excessive force, and six instances of hate crime.
According to the report, about 16.32 percent of the attacks were physical where 11 people were grievously injured and 92 individuals suffered minor injuries.
Some 47 people were also threatened.
At least 71.95 percent of the victim journalists and human rights defenders were subjected to legal harassment, where they were implicated in various criminal cases for speaking out or expressing their views online. Of the cases, 11 were criminal defamation cases and 410 were against online expressions.
In four cases, the victims were subjected to contempt of court proceedings for being vocal on social media.
The organisation found that almost all the attacks against journalists were due to publication of news or while they were doing their jobs 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 closures and loss of income of media outlets during the pandemic. The journalists and the media industry are still trying to cope with the pandemic fallout.
"Article 19 expresses serious concerns about the rising numbers of cases against journalists and online communicators under the DSA and overall lack of security and protection of journalists and online activists and media workers," said Faruq Faisal, regional director of Article 19 Bangladesh and South.
Meanwhile, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) called for ensuring a conducive environment for free and professional media.
In a statement issued yesterday to mark the World Press Freedom Day 2021, the TIB said the risk of professional and economic crisis of mass media and journalists has intensified during the pandemic.
Even though the number of media outlets has increased, syndication of political people and businesses, and the DSA have become barriers to professionalism, free flow of information, and the freedom of press, the statement said.
Executive Director of TIB 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 for all citizens. It also ensured the freedom of the press.
But due to direct and indirect pressure from different quarters, this constitutional right becomes a mere document, he said.
This failure to ensure freedom of the press and professional protection of journalists makes the democratic foundation of the country weaker and it also hampers the rights to free flow and non-partial information.
Businessmen own most of the media houses. "Media Capture" has become an institutionalised foundation due to direct and indirect political involvement of this business community, Iftekhar said.
For this reason in many cases professional journalists are also forced to hide news for their protection, he added.