308 accused in 172 cases in 8 months
Article 19 recorded 172 cases filed under the Digital Security Act from January to August in Bangladesh, it said in a statement yesterday.
Three hundred and eight people of different professions have been charged in these cases. Of them, 41 are journalists.
Of the accused, 114 were arrested immediately, many of whom are still awaiting bail.
Last year, 197 cases filed against 368 people were recorded, said the statement, sent to mark the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
The number of cases recorded in 2019 and 2018 was 63 and 34 respectively. Most of the victims of these cases are still in custody and are being harassed as the trials have not been completed.
The UK-based rights organisation observed that repetitive lack of coordination, opacity in action planning and acute absence of accountability at the policy-making level, to deal with the first and second wave of the pandemic has deepened the crisis in the country.
Faruq Faisel, regional director for Article 19 South Asia, said: ''The government has used various excuses to curtail the right to information and the freedom of the media to an alarming level. Even the government has often come up with inaccurate and inconsistent information on overall crisis management, health care and vaccination.
"Instead of acknowledging the reports of irregularities and corruption in the health sector published in the media, the government has resorted to repression against the media and journalists. Disappointingly, the centennial Official Secrets Act of the colonial period, including the deeply flawed DSA are being used to do so."
He further added that obtaining information is a fundamental right of citizens.
"Citizens have an equal right to protection and privacy of their personal data. However, there are often disturbing incidents like eavesdropping on private mobile phones and secret phone conversations being leaked," said the statement quoting Faisel.
The statement also expressed concern at the proposed "Personal Data Protection Act" saying that it would be used as a tool to control dissent in the name of protecting personal data and further impede independent expression."
The statement added that the constitution of Bangladesh protects the right to information and fundamental freedoms of the people.