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  • Bangladeshi journalists protesting against laws obstructing free speech.

    Bangladeshi journalists protesting against laws obstructing free speech. | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 May 2019

Three Bangladeshi writers and activists have been arrested by police within one week resulting in protests against free speech censorship. 

Bangladeshi police arrested three people, two writers and an activist all in one week under the Digital Security Act (DSA) and the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA).

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The laws obstruct free speech and if convicted, the arrested could face up to 14 years in prison.

Henry Swapon a poet was arrested under DSA Tuesday for allegedly hurting religious sentiments of the minority Christian community via a Facebook post. According to his friend poet Altaf Shahnewaz, Swapon's arrest was an excuse to silence him for talking about church corruption.

"He was vocal about misdeeds and embezzlement in Barisal churches. That’s why he was framed," he said.

Swapon was granted bail Thursday.

Writer Imtiaz Mahmud was arrested Wednesday in the capital city of Dhaka over a Facebook post in which he wrote about the rights of minorities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region.

A semi-autonomous region, CHT, the region is composed mainly of around 13 ethnic minorities that have clashed with armed forces there for decades.

Mahmud is known for his pro-CHT activism. In July 2017, a case was filed against him under ICTA for allegedly inciting communal violence in the region through his social media posts.

Abdul Kaium, a human rights activist was the third one arrested since last week after he was accused by the principal of an Islamic school of “sharing improper content online.”

A group of writers, artists, and journalists protested the arrests Wednesday by forming a human chain in Dhaka. They demanded the release of all three within 24 hours.

The protesters threatened an indefinite hunger strike from Friday and demanded the abolition of DSA ad ICTA.

Bangladesh, in the past also came under fire when prominent bloggers and activists were killed by Islamic extremists for speaking up for a just and secular society.

In August 2015, Niloy Chatterjee, 40, an advocate of secularism, was killed in his flat in Dhaka.

The same year in February, a machete-wielding assailants killed a U.S. citizen of Bangladeshi origin and critic of religious militancy, Avijit Roy, and seriously injured his wife and fellow blogger, Rafida Bonya Ahmed, after they left a book fair in the capital. Additionally, Washiqur Rahman, another secular blogger who aired his outrage over Roy’s death on social media, was killed in a similar fashion in March. 

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More attacks were carried out in 2016 that targetted students. Many bloggers had to flee the country fearing their safety.

Killings of secular advocates were claimed by various Islamic extremist organizations while the government came under fire for not bringing the murder to justice.

Bangladeshi government and opposition, both, have been accused by rights activists for aligning with the Islamist extremists during election times to gain votes.

The recent arrests, even though different in nature from the bloggers’ murders, sparked outrage as the freedom of expression is continuously under threat by the Bangladeshi authorities.


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