[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] announced [HRW report] on Wednesday that the Bangladesh government [official website, in English] should abolish a recently enacted policy that restricts the media’s freedom of expression. HRW argues the policy, passed in August, is broad, vague and imprecise and is seemingly designed to repress critical reporting by the media. The policy bans speech that is “anti-state,” “ridicules the national ideology” or “is inconsistent with Bangladesh’s culture” and HRW fears it will allow the government to arbitrarily enforce the new law against individuals seen as political opponents. Last week Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina [Virtual Bangladesh profile] cautioned reporters and journalists not to “cross the line” or to “cut off the branch you are sitting on.” The policy calls for the formation of a broadcast commission that will monitor compliance with the new law. HRW states that Bangladesh is a party to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [text], and that the new policy goes against the covenant’s goal of promoting the right to freedom of expression.
Political tension has increased in Bangladesh since January when the country’s Nationalist Party boycotted the election that returned Hasina to power. In June a Bangladesh court sentenced [JURIST report] eight people to death and six others to life imprisonment in connection with a 2001 Bengali New Year’s celebration bombing that killed ten people. In April Bangladesh’s High Court ordered [JURIST report] former prime minister Khaleda Zia to stand trial on corruption charges, accusing her and three other members of the opposition Nationalist Party of embezzling funds from a charitable trust named after Zia’s deceased husband, former president Ziaur Rahman. In March Bangladeshi investigators moved [JURIST report] the government to ban Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami for its alleged involvement in war crimes during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. In January a Bangladeshi court sentenced [JURIST report] 14 men to death for their involvement in a 2004 arms smuggling operation. Among those sentenced was the leader of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami party, a former deputy interior minister and a former director general of the National Security Intelligence.