Dhaka, Thu, Apr 2019


Stop arbitrary arrests, HRW urges BD govt

16 August 2018,Thursday, 21:20

Bangladesh authorities are tracking social media accounts and have detained dozens of people across the country for criticising the government over its violent crackdown on peaceful protesters, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The New York-based right group observed that the recent wave of arrests, targeting student protesters and journalists, has created an atmosphere of fear, putting a serious chill on free speech.

Thousands of students took to the streets after a speeding bus had killed two students on 29 July 2018.

“The protesters called for safer roads, accountable governance, and the upholding of the rule of law but were met with teargas and rubber bullets from security forces and violent attacks by supporters of the ruling Awami League,” the HRW said.

It pointed out that after the police stood by while government supporters beat up the student protesters, the authorities moved quickly to stifle any condemnation of the violence.

HRW mentioned that Dhaka police have been conducting block raids in residential areas of the city where many university students live.

Quoting students, the right group said the police have been going door-to-door, raiding houses, and checking phones for communications related to the protests.

“...Awami League supporters attacked protesters with machetes, sticks, and metal pipes...,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.

“The authorities should halt arbitrary arrests, prosecute those involved in violent attacks, and immediately and unconditionally release people it has thrown in jail just for speaking out.”

Among those arrested is renowned photographer and activist, Shahidul Alam, who has been in detention for nine days, during which he reportedly complained he was beaten in custody.

HRW said nearly all the arrests have been made under section 57 of the draconian Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act).

Section 57 authorises the prosecution of anyone who publishes, in electronic form, material that is fake and obscene; defamatory; “tends to deprave and corrupt” its audience; causes, or may cause, “deterioration in law and order”; prejudices the image of the state or a person; or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief.”

The vague and overly broad law has been used repeatedly over the years to stifle criticism, the rights group said.

It added that Bangladesh authorities had earlier recognised that the law is misused and stated that the government has no intention of curbing free speech.

Instead, Bangladesh authorities have done just that, the HRW said.

According to it, the police ‘Cybercrime Investigation Division’ posted on Facebook on 7 August that “We too desire safe roads, but we request that concerned citizens please help us by providing us with the [social media] post links and detailed addresses of those plotting to create chaos in the country by spreading rumors in the country and abroad. We are committed to bringing these propagators under the law, wherever they are, in the country or abroad.”

“Bangladesh authorities should accept that criticism, including from young people, is part of a vibrant and healthy democracy,” Adams said.

“The Bangladesh government should, once and for all, replace the ICT Act with one that upholds the principles of freedom of expression and stop intimidating those who hold it accountable.”


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