Human Rights Watch urges the government of Bangladesh to draft a new law for upholding the principles of free speech and internet freedom.
In a new report published on Wednesday, the New York-based rights group mentioned that scores of people have been arrested over the past five years in Bangladesh for criticising the government, political leaders, and others on Facebook, as well as in blogs, online newspapers.
While the arrests were made under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT Act), the HRW pointed out that the proposed Digital Security Bill to replace the existing law is “even broader than the one it seeks to replace”.
The proposed act, article 32 of which is being widely criticised, “violates the country’s international obligation to protect freedom of speech”, said the HRW report titled “No Place for Criticism: Bangladesh Crackdown on Social Media Commentary”.
It was launched ahead of scrutiny of Bangladesh’s human rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 14 May 2018, as part of a process known as the Universal Periodic Review.
The HRW insisted that the government should take this opportunity to commit to ending its crackdown on dissent and criticism, including that made by the political opposition, and instead, pledge to lead a robust public campaign on the right to free expression.
“The government of Bangladesh acknowledges that the current section 57 of the ICT Act is draconian, and needs to go,” said HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams.
“But the new law being proposed is hardly an improvement, creating a series of new offences that will undoubtedly be used for years to come against government critics in the country’s highly politicised criminal justice system.”
The HRW report said the government should work with domestic and international experts to draft a new law that fully upholds the principles of free speech and internet freedom.