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HRW concerned over intensive surveillance on social media in Bangladesh

19 October 2018,Friday, 20:19



Human Rights Watch today said Bangladesh government has embarked upon intensive and intrusive surveillance and monitoring of social media ahead of national elections, raising concern over a chilling effect on speech.

“Draconian new laws and policies are being used to target political opponents, journalists, internet commentators, and broadcasters,” the New York-based international rights watchdog said in a statement.

It said, “National elections are due in Bangladesh by January 2019. Opposition parties and independent observers fear that the increasing crackdown on privacy and free expression is an attempt to limit speech and criticism of the government in the election period. The government claims these efforts are to stem harmful rumors, false information, or objectionable content to maintain law and order.”

“Bangladesh is using claims about public security to silence opponents and critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW. “The government’s surveillance practices are violating the rights to privacy and freedom of expression ahead of the elections.”

Expressing concern over the recently enacted Digital Security Act, the rights body said, “Bangladesh has 28 million Facebook users. Since social media emerged as a key tool to express dissent and organize protests, the authorities have monitored various platforms and internet-based communication. This has already led to arrests for using social media to criticize the government.”

The HRW further said, “There are also concerns that the Digital Security Act will be used, as section 57 of the ICT Act was earlier, to crack down on peaceful social media content.”

“The government has also ordered security agencies to intensify their surveillance of online expression. The agencies include the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), a paramilitary force implicated in serious human rights violations including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances,” the statement reads further.

About the proposed National Broadcast Act, HRW said, “Television networks, already under government pressure, will face increased restrictions under the proposed National Broadcast Act 2018.”

Mentioning the arrests of Chittagong University teacher Maidul Islam and renowned photographer Shahidul Alam, HRW said “Any interference with the rights to privacy and free expression should be based on clear law, for a legitimate reason, and be proportionate – that is, the minimal interference necessary. Peaceful criticism of the government and state authorities should always be permitted.”

Adams said, “There is a chilling atmosphere for journalism and free speech in Bangladesh right now, with even those sharing innocuous social media posts at risk of arrest and harassment.”

“The government should immediately end this assault on fundamental political rights, and instead create an environment conducive to ensuring that Bangladeshis are able to elect their leaders without fear.”

 

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