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UN rights chief urges Bangladesh govt to review Digital Security Act

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Published: 12:56, 2 March 2021   Update: 13:03, 2 March 2021
UN rights chief urges Bangladesh govt to review Digital Security Act

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called for a review of a digital security law used against opposition figures in Bangladesh.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called for a review of a digital security law used against opposition figures in Bangladesh.

“There needs to be an overhaul of the Digital Security Act under which Ahmed was charged, and all those detained under this Act for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and opinion must be released,” Bachelet said.

Bachelet also urged the government of Bangladesh to ensure its investigation into the death in custody of writer Mushtaq Ahmed is prompt, transparent, and independent.

“The government must ensure that its investigation into Ahmed’s death is prompt, transparent, and independent and that any allegations of ill-treatment of other detainees are also immediately investigated,” Bachelet said

Ahmed was detained in May under a tough digital security act that opponents say undermines freedom of speech after he criticized the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Jail authorities said Ahmed died on Thursday after passing out at a high-security jail outside of Dhaka. He had not been suffering from a major illness, according to prison chief Mohammad Ghiasuddin.

The High Commissioner also expressed serious concern at allegations that another man detained on similar charges, cartoonist Ahmed Kishore, has been subjected "to torture or other ill-treatment." Bangladesh saw another day of protests on Sunday following the death of the prominent writer, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Parliament passed the Digital Security Act, DSA, in late 2018 after several major instances of deadly sectarian violence sparked by posts on social media, but the wording is vague and its provisions broad.

It criminalizes engaging in "propaganda" against the "spirit" of the 1971 Bangladeshi war of independence, the national anthem, the flag, and the nation's founder Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current Prime Minister.

Those falling foul of the law faces hefty fines and lengthy jail sentences, even life imprisonment for certain repeat offenses. Arrests can be made without a warrant. Citing data from Cyber Crime Tribunal, Amnesty International says nearly 2,000 cases have been filed under the DSA, with journalists' particular targets.

Last year at least 10 editors of national and regional dailies and online news platforms faced legal charges under the DSA following critical reporting on leaders of the ruling Awami League party, according to Amnesty.

Others falling foul include people like Ahmed, a successful crocodile farmer who became a vociferous critic of the government. He was arrested in May along with several others including rights campaigner Didar Bhuiyan and Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a cartoonist.

According to rights group Article 19, which monitors press freedom in many countries, "freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of the media are being severely violated under the Digital Security Act." Rights groups say arrests have increased since the coronavirus pandemic.

ShiningBD/MB