Stop assault on freedom of expression, assembly | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 12, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:47 AM, August 12, 2020

Stop assault on freedom of expression, assembly

Amnesty International urges govt

Amnesty International has urged the Bangladesh government to immediately stop all attacks on those peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and urgently investigate a series of recent attacks.

The global rights body made the call in the wake of recent attacks, including the enforced disappearance of a student activist, it said in a press release yesterday.

Referring to Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights, the release said between 2009 and 2018, at least 507 people were subjected to enforced disappearances.

Of them, 62 people were found dead, 286 returned alive, and the fate and whereabouts of 159 are still unknown.

"Enforced disappearances have been increasingly on the rise in Bangladesh since the current regime assumed power in 2009," Amnesty International said.

Referring to the disappearance of Ashraf Uddin Mahdi, a 27-year-old student at Egypt's Al Azhar University and a student activist, the statement said Mahdi was held in an unknown location for 48 hours, during which he could not communicate with anyone, before being released amid intense pressure from civil society organisations.

Mahdi told Amnesty International that the abductors released him on the condition that he would stop writing critical posts on social media about a few individuals affiliated with the "regime".

"There is a disturbing pattern of enforced disappearances emerging in Bangladesh in recent years, mainly targeting people who express their dissenting political opinions. Ashraf Uddin Mahdi was forcibly disappeared from the centre of the capital as a brazen tactic to silence him," said Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International.

Student activists have also faced violence from groups closely associated with the ruling party to silence criticism of the authorities.

The press statement also included Barguna police's attack on a human chain organised to demand the release of Shahadul Islam Sefat, a graduate student of Stamford University.

Videos seen by Amnesty International suggest that the police suppressed the human chain violently without any provocation from the protesters.

"People's rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must be urgently upheld in Bangladesh. The authorities must allow people to express their critical views without fear of reprisals, and must immediately stop their campaign of forcibly disappearing those perceived to be critical of the government.

"All those incidents must be promptly and effectively investigated in an impartial and independent manner, and all those found responsible must be brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty," said Sultan Mohammed Zakaria.

As background, the Amnesty International press release said that there has been a "crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly in recent years". It mentioned arrests made in cases filed under what it termed the "draconian" Digital Security Act -- 1,325 people in 2019, or three detentions per day. The release added that in the first half of 2020 alone, DSA detentions have crossed the 500 mark.

"In recent weeks, authorities have arrested dozens of students, teachers, cartoonists, and human rights defenders for their critical social media posts, writings and even caricatures," the release concluded.   


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