There has been a surge in cases under the Digital Security Act against people who express their opinions on Facebook criticising the government, its ministers and lawmakers for their mismanagements in COVID-19 preparedness and response.
Journalists were also facing charges and getting arrested under the act in cases filed by the law enforcers and ruling Awami League leaders.
At least eight journalists were arrested in May.
Rights organisation Article 19’s data showed that 60 cases were lodged under the act in this year where over 100 people were sued for expressing their opinions on Facebook and other social media.
The highest 18 cases were filed in April during the COVID-19 crisis and 13 cases were filed in the first six days of May, the data showed.
Over 25 journalists were sued under the digital security act this year with the majority of those taking place in April and May, according to the data.
Police headquarters data showed that two dozen of people were arrested in three metropolitan areas, including DMP, and 13 districts in April under the Digital Security Act for criticising the ministers and spreading rumours on the novel coronavirus.
RAB’s legal and media wing director Sarwar Bin Kashem told New Age that they also arrested over 15 people last month for spreading rumours.
Recently, 11 persons, including a number of journalists, writers, and a cartoonist were charged by RAB under the act on Wednesday.
Two journalists in Barguna were arrested under the act on the same night.
Earlier, two journalists in Sunamganj and Cox’s Bazar were shown arrested hours after they were picked up from their homes in connection with two cases filed under the Digital Security Act on Tuesday.
Journalist in Sunamganj was charged for posting critical contents on Facebook against a local lawmaker.
Journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, whose whereabouts had remained unknown for almost two months until he reappeared in Sadipur border area in Benapole early Sunday. He later landed in jail in a case filed under the Digital Security Act.
The day before Kajol reappeared, three journalists from Narsingdi — Dainik Grameen Darpan news editor Ramzan Ali Pramanik, its staff correspondent Shanta Banik, and online news portal Narsingdi Pratidin publisher and editor Shaon Khondoker Shahin — ended up in jail for running a report on a 50-year-old CNG driver’s sudden death on 29 April after he was accosted by the police near Ghorashal police outpost for breaching lockdown rules.
Former chairman of the National Human Rights Commission professor Mizanur Rahman believes that these cases suggest the intolerant attitude of the authorities.
‘During any crisis, people want quick relief and they become frustrated over mismanagement and lack of coordination by the government. So they express their opinions more fervently. But filing cases and arresting people for their remarks reveal an intolerant stance against criticism,’ he said.
Professor Mizanur said that in most of the incidents, law enforcers or the ruling party men were filing cases under the Digital Security Act and such practice only curtails the right to freedom of expression.
Police’s cyber security team said that they were witnessing a flooding of rumours on Facebook about COVID-19 and they had to remove several hundred posts containing rumours on coronavirus from Facebook and Youtube.
The right activists, however, said that the government and ruling party leaders were abusing the law and were trying to silence criticism and hide their COVID-19 response failures.
In another case during mid-April, editor-in-chief of bdnews24.com Toufique Imrose Khalidi, Jagonews24.com acting editor Mohiuddin Sarker and two others were sued under the Digital Security Act for reporting on misappropriation of OMS rice in Thakurgaon’s Baliadangi upazila.
The case was filed by a local ruling party leader, police said.
In early April, Criminal Investigation Department of police arrested a lawyer named Abu Bakar Siddiqi at Uttar Badda for a Facebook post on coronavirus and Awami League secretary general Obaidul Quader.
Human rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra chairperson ZI Khan Panna told New Age that the misuses render the Digital Security Act irrelevant and insignificant. So the law enforcers and authorities must be cautious against any abusing of such a law,’ he added.
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