Silencing political dissent is a threat to democracy

Published: 00:00, Dec 22,2020


A LEADER of a district unit of the Bangladesh Chhatra League, the student wing of ruling Awami League, coming to file a sedition case against the immediate past vice-president of the Dhaka University Central Students’ Union, following the latter’s alleged comment on politics, the government and various public agencies, points to a growing pattern of using sedition and defamation charge against dissenting voice. In the charge, filed with the court of a senior judicial magistrate in Brahmanbaria, the plaintiff is reported to have claimed that the former DUCSU vice-president has presented ‘aggressive, false and discouraging information’ about the government and various state organisations with a view to provoking people from his Facebook account during a live show on December 16. The plaintiff has also claimed that the accused has ‘smeared’ the government and called the government illegitimate and unelected and has described the activities of the Bangladesh Chhatra League as disgraceful. What, however, comes as worrying is that the case at hand, like many other earlier sedition and defamation cases, betrays a growingly repressive nature of the government, which has been using different legal tools and the law enforcement agencies in silencing political dissent.

What is also worrying is that the government appears to have blurred the distinction between the state and the government and have come to tag each and every criticism about the government and government agencies as anti-state, seditious and defamatory. The ruling party that presides over the government has reportedly used sedition charge, which made its way into the Penal Code as a tool for the British to suppress the anti-British movement in British India, and the much-criticised Digital Security Act 2018 to suppress and silence political dissent and opposing views. In the recent past sedition cases were filed against a Chittagong University teacher for observations he made on the war of independence and the Awami League in an article published in a US journal, Daily Sangram editor and a reporter and leaders of the Hefazat-e-Islami, to mention a few. Cases filed under the Digital Security Act have also seen an alarming rise, with at least 327 cases having been filed under the act in the first quarter of 2020, according to the cybercrime tribunal data. Most of these cases have been criticised by many international rights organisations.

The philosophy of democracy lays in the right to dissent, and any conscious citizen has his/her right to constructively criticise the government, its agencies and policies and the government should also heed the criticisms and make changes in its policies and behaviour, as and when necessary. The judiciary should also keep watch on the growing use of different laws as repressive tools and should not entertain cases that go against the spirit of democracy. The government must remember that diversity of opinion is a fundamental requisite to a functional democracy.

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