HRW concerned over arrests for social media posts in BD
Published : Saturday, 18 May, 2019 at 12:00 AM Count : 86
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed concern over the recent arrests made over social media posts.
"Bangladesh authorities made a series of arrests in their crackdown on the rights to free speech. The arrests were based on vague charges such as 'hurting religious sentiment' or undermining 'law and order', HRW said in a statement on Friday.
The arrestees include human rights activist Abdul Kaium, renowned poet Henry Sawpon, and lawyer Imtiaz Mahmood.
All three were detained and charged under section 57 of the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) Act or its successor, the Digital Security Act 2018.
"Arresting activists, poets, and lawyers for exercising their rights to free speech is straight out of the authoritarian playbook," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch.
"The Bangladesh government should stop locking up its critics and review the law to ensure it upholds international standards on the right to peaceful expression," he said in the HRW statement.
Mahmood was arrested at his home in Dhaka on May 15 in a case filed in July 2017 under the ICT Act over a Facebook post about violence in Bangladesh's Chittagong Hill Tracts titled "Hill Bengali residents and law enforcers."
Shafiqul Islam, a trader, filed the case against Mahmood under the ICT Act accusing him of spreading rumours with an 'ill motive to tarnish the country's image', hurting 'religious sentiment', and 'deteriorating the law and order'.
The High Court granted Mahmood conditional release (anticipatory bail), meaning he was granted bail without arrest, on July 25, 2017.
But a Khagrachhari court had issued an arrest warrant against him under the 2017 case on January 21 without any explanation.
Mahmood's arrest is of particular concern because the ICT Act was revoked in October 2018 and replaced with the Digital Security Act, which the government claimed would end arbitrary arrests.
Under the new law, "propaganda or campaign against the Liberation War, the spirit of the Liberation War, the father of the nation, national anthem, or national flag" is punishable with life in prison, it said.
The Bangladesh's Editors' Council, an association of newspaper editors, has said that the law effectively prohibits investigative journalism.
Kaium, an activist with the prominent human rights organisation Odhikar, and Editor of news portal Mymensinghlive, was arrested on May 12 and denied bail on May 13.
Idris Ali, an influential madrasa teacher, filed the case accusing Kaium of extortion under the penal code and dissemination of "false or fear inducing information/data" (section 25) and defamation (section 29) under the Digital Security Act.