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Rights Group Slams ‘Draconian’ Bangladesh Internet Laws

Bangladeshi Blogger Mohiuddin Sharif, at a secret location in a south Asian country, March 1, 2017. Sharif faced death threats and ffled Bangladesh with his wife and a child in 2015. (R. Akhter Munni/VOA)

The human rights group Amnesty International condemned what it called “draconian” internet laws being used in Bangladesh to silence government critics.

In a new report released Tuesday, Amnesty said members of the media are “under siege” in Bangladesh from both the police and armed groups that threaten them.

“Between the violence of armed groups and repression of the state, secular voices in Bangladesh are being consistently silenced. Not only is the government failing to protect people’s freedom of expression, it has been blaming them for the threats they face and criminalizing the work of bloggers and journalists through a slew of repressive laws,” Olof Blomqvist, the report’s lead researcher said.

The report cites a communication technology law passed in 2006 as “the principal instrument” used by the Bangladesh government to silence critics.

“Since 2013, several high-profile journalists and editors have been subjected to politically-motivated criminal charges,” the report said. “Most of them have been associated with media outlets that are critical of the government or supportive of the political opposition.”

The law, which the Amnesty report describes as “vaguely worded,” allows the government to prosecute people “in the interest of sovereignty, integrity or security of Bangladesh.”

Several journalists interviewed for the report call the repression they are currently experiencing the worst in the country since it returned to civilian rule in 1991.

Aside from government repression, secular bloggers in Bangladesh also face the threat of violence from religious zealots who act with virtual immunity from police, according to the report.

Several of them told Amnesty about death threats they had received due to their internet postings. When they tried to receive help from the police, officers suggested the bloggers leave the country and harassed them for writing about “secular topics.”