Amnesty International reports Bangladesh press freedom endangered after government calls largest newspaper an ‘enemy’ News
rahmatullah77 / Pixabay
Amnesty International reports Bangladesh press freedom endangered after government calls largest newspaper an ‘enemy’

Amnesty International reported Wednesday that the most widely circulated newspaper in Bangladesh, Prothom Alo, has been declared an “enemy” by the Bangladeshi government, a move that Amnesty termed an attack on press freedom.

On 10th April, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called Prothom Alo “an enemy of the Awami League, democracy, and the people of Bangladesh” whilst speaking in Parliament. She cited an article published by the outlet covering the cost of living in Bangladesh, including a quote allegedly attained by asking a 7-year-old child to lie after bribing him. She used the remark “We want freedom of rice, fish and meat,” as evidence that “[Prothom Alo] never want[s] the stability to remain in this country”.

This quote was published originally on Prothom Alo’s Facebook page, attributed to a labourer who was quoted within the article alongside a photo of a child holding flowers. Acknowledging that this was misleading, the post was removed within 17 minutes of its publication, the photograph of the boy was removed from the online report, and a clarification was issued.

On March 29, the article’s author, Shamsuzzman Shams, was arrested and charged by several plainclothesmen identifying themselves as members of Bangladesh’s Criminal Investigation Department. A family member of Shams told Amnesty International “We were worried sick… there was no warrant issued against him. No one informed us of anything.” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan claimed Shams’ report criticizing rising food prices was “false, fabricated and ill-motivated” and was illegal under the Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA). Shams was later granted bail.

Under the same law, a group of unnamed people, including a photographer, have been charged in relation to the same article. The editor of Prothom Alo, Matiur Rahman, is also being sued.

The Digital Security Act was a significant step in the Bangladeshi government’s effort to restrict the freedom of the press. The regional director for South Asia at Amnesty International, Yamini Mishra, has documented the alarming rise in the use of the DSA not only to prevent criticism of the ruling Awami League Party but also to criminalize the work of human rights defenders. Mishra concluded, “The authorities must repeal the DSA and immediately cease the harassment and intimidation of Journalists in Bangladesh.”

This was echoed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk’s call for Bangladesh to impose an immediate ban on the DSA’s use until it is reformed to assure compliance with international human rights law. Türk expressed concern that it is “being used across Bangladesh to arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, and to muzzle critical voices online.”

Bangladesh is ranked 162/180 in terms of freedom of the press by Reporters Without Borders. The country has 6 journalists in prison today for violations of the DSA.