Bangladesh: Where Freedom of Speech is Gradually Shrinking

Freedom of speech is the principle supported by individuals or communities to freely express their opinions without fear, without surveillance or under the obligation to accept the directives and approval of authorities. At present, various countries of the world are not following this principle. That is, they are not protecting freedom of speech. The South Asian country of Bangladesh is one of the places, environments or countries where freedom of speech is most threatened.

Bangladesh is a promising country in South Asia. Although small in size, this country with a large population is full of natural beauty. The country gained independence from West Pakistan on ’16 December 1971‘ through a bloody war. In a democratic process, the Constitution enshrines the rule that the country’s government is elected by direct popular vote.

Since 2009, the government of Bangladesh has been run by a large political party called Awami League. Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the country’s architect Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is the party’s president and the country’s prime minister. Sheikh Hasina is facing a lot of criticism due to her strict policy of suppressing the voices of opposition parties, dissenters and the media. Her critics and opponents consider her a ‘Proponent of Dictatorship’. Criticism of the government led by Sheikh Hasina, especially in the cases of suppression of freedom of the press, torture of journalists, disappearances and murders of journalists is everywhere. The United States has already sanctioned several officers of the country’s law enforcement agencies (RAB) for their alleged involvement in human rights violations.

During the ongoing regime of Awami League, many journalists have been killed, many journalists have been attacked and sued, many print, electronic and online media have been shut down.

More than a thousand injured journalists in five years

According to the ‘Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK, Law and Justice Center in english)’, a human rights organization in the country, 35 journalists were killed in Bangladesh between 1992 to 2023. From 2013 to 2018 a total of 1,226 journalists were injured, killed and tortured. Among them, Awami League tortured 383 journalists. Police killed 130 and 240 journalists were tortured by various terrorists. Not a single case was given a fair trial.

Asak also says that in 6 months from January to June this year (2023), about 119 journalists have been tortured and harassed in various ways.

In 2013, Dainik Amar Desh, Diganta TV, Channel One, CSB and 35 online portals together were shut down. As a result, thousands of Bangladeshi journalists have become unemployed.

Fed up with attacks, prosecutions and torture, many prominent and renowned journalists of Bangladesh have chosen a life in exile. Among them are Mahmudur Rahman, editor of ‘Amar Desh’ newspaper, columnist Pinaki Bhattacharya, journalist Kanak Sarwar and Elias Hossain.

Digital Security Act, the new threat of freedom of press

The issue of torture of journalists and suppression of newspapers in Bangladesh is being widely criticized in international circles beyond the boundaries of the country. In particular, the black law against journalists called the ‘Digital Security Act‘ has raised the concern of the international community. The US State Department’s annual report on human rights also brought up the issue of freedom of speech in Bangladesh. The U.S. report said that while freedom of expression is enshrined in Bangladesh’s Constitution. The government has failed to enforce it in many cases and that there are “significant restrictions” on freedom of expression in the country.

This matter has been mentioned in the report published by the US State Department on 30 March 2020 on the human rights situation in Bangladesh.

In the overall situation it can be understood that Bangladesh is very limited. Day by day freedom of speech in the country is shrinking. The country’s media and journalists are going through a dangerous time.

Photo credit : Syed Mahamudur Rahman/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Jamil Ahmed