Bangladesh uses tough laws to crack down on dissent: Amnesty

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Dhaka : Bangladesh is using ‘draconian’ internet laws to crack down on dissent, curb public debate and criticism and harass and prosecute journalists, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

‘The Bangladeshi government treats journalism as if it were a crime,’ said Olof Blomqvist, the group’s researcher, in a report entitled ‘Caught between fear and repression: Attacks on freedom of expression in Bangladesh’.

‘Through imprisonment, threats, intimidation and constant interference in their work, Bangladesh’s government has done all it can to silence critical voices in the media,’ he said.

The Information and Communications Technology Act, which carries a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment, is ‘the principal instrument to muzzle critical voices in the country’, the report said.

The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has used the controversial law, enacted in 2006 and made tougher in 2013, to arrest several top editors who were considered pro-opposition, over charges widely believed to be politically motivated.

Since January 2014 the authorities have used this law to arrest at least 95 people including nine journalists and two writers, according to local rights group Odhikar.

Several journalists refer to the current repression as the worst they have endured since Bangladesh returned to civilian rule in 1991, the report said.

‘There are now ‘red lines’ that journalists are careful not to cross. Few dare publish reports that may be deemed critical of Hasina or her family, knowing that they could be shut down without explanation or have pressure brought to bear on their advertisers,’ the report said.

‘The crackdown on dissent and secular thought in Bangladesh must end,’ said Blomqvist, urging the government to ‘repeal or reform the draconian laws’.

The Amnesty report comes as police used the law Sunday night to arrest the editor of an online news portal after he published a report questioning the standards of the products of a local leading electronics maker.

Local journalist groups have mainly raised concerns over Article 57 of the internet law, which allows prosecution of people if they are deemed to ‘prejudice the image of the State’ or ‘hurt religious belief’.

‘This is a notorious law. It criminalises journalism and freedom of expression. It must be nullified,’ Pulack Ghatack, a joint secretary general of the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, told AFP.

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