ARTICLE 19 calls for National Plan of Action to counter hate speech

ARTICLE 19, the UK based international human rights organisation, has urged the Bangladesh government to develop and implement a National Plan of Action to counter hate speech. Kenya is the first country in the world which has declared its National Plan of Action to counter hate speech. ARTICLE 19 also sees the need to step up efforts of the Bangladesh government and other concerned stakeholders to promote inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance to counter hate speech. The rights-based organisation raised the issue on the eve of the observation of the UN “International Day for Countering Hate Speech”, which will be marked for the first time on 18 June this year.

Faruq Faisel, South Asia Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 said in a press statement on Friday, “The exponential spread and proliferation of hate speech is becoming a deep concern in Bangladesh and around the world. Although hate speech is not a new phenomenon, however the scale and impacts of hate speech have amplified due to the advent of new technologies and online communication. In Bangladesh, physical and verbal attacks against religious and ethnic minorities are on the rise due to the influence of hate speech, especially online.”

“Bangladesh government has obligations under the Bangladesh constitution and international human rights law to take effective measures to address and combat incidents of racial and religious intolerance, discrimination and related violence. Bangladesh constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, and prohibits communalism, abuse of religion for political purpose, discrimination or favor based on religion (art. 12). The constitution also provides that the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth (art. 28 (1)). Bangladesh is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which stipulates to respect all individuals without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, religion, national or social origin, birth or other status,” he added.

According to a Ain O Salish Kendro report, in Bangladesh, around 3,679 attacks on the Hindu community took place between January 2013 and September 2021. The attacks included vandalism of and setting fire to 559 houses and 442 shops and businesses. At least 1,678 cases of vandalism and arson attacks on Hindu temples, idols and places of worship have been recorded. While 11 citizens from the Hindu community have died in these incidents, another 862 were injured. Two Hindu women were raped and another four were sexually assaulted. In addition to the Hindu community, 17 houses and 4 businesses that belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect were attacked in 2019 and 2020, injuring at least 50 members of the sect. Apart from the above-mentioned incidents, four attacks on the Buddhists community took place. This report is based on media reports. The rights activists said that the number did not represent the real situation as the media covers only the bigger picture that comes to light. In October, 2021, at least six people were killed and 100 injured in communal violence and mayhem that took place during the Durga Puja celebrations.

ARTICLE 19 called on the government and other concerned stakeholders to ensure that religions, beliefs and ethnicity are not used to violate human rights, and urged all, both the government and citizens to combat hate speech – which is a threat to human rights of the citizens of Bangladesh.