International civil society watchdog CIVICUS added Bangladesh on Thursday to its CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist and rated the civic space in Bangladesh as “repressed,” the watchdog’s second lowest rating. The CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist rates the civic space of jurisdictions based on expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association.
CIVICUS stated it added Bangladesh to its watchlist because the jurisdiction has been experiencing declines in civic freedom. The watchdog stated that the incumbent Sheikh Hasina government has silenced dissent against the government by targeting and imprisoning government critics. These restrictions on civic space are not in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Bangladesh is party to.
According to CIVICUS, the Hasina government has targeted human rights defenders with politically motivated charges. For example, human rights defenders Adilur Rahman Khan and ASM Nasiruddin Elan were sentenced to two years prison on September 14 for breaching Section 57 of the 2006 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. UN experts purported that the trials of Khan and Elan were conducted with due process violations.
CIVICUS also alleged that the government of Bangladesh has continued to employ the Digital Security Act (DSA) to silence online critics. The DSA is a law that has been criticized by human rights organizations for containing ambiguous and overboard provisions that allow authorities to police online space. While Bangladesh Law Minister Anisul Huq said on August 10 that Bangladesh’s government will replace the DSA with the recently passed Cyber Security Act (CSA), human rights activists have found the CSA to be as repressive as the DSA, which is currently in force.
This is not the first time Bangladesh has been criticized for having a restricted civic space. On July 22, the Center for Governance Studies reported that 62 percent of human rights activists consider the general environment of their work as “very unsafe” or “unsafe,” and 42.3 percent claimed that threats and persecution were associated with the state. On March 31, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urged Bangladesh to ban the DSA until it complies with international human rights law. Türk said that the DSA was employed in Bangladesh to arrest and harass human rights defenders.