Press

Joint Letter Calling on Bangladesh to Dismiss Digital Security Act Cases Over Freedom of Expression

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina

People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]

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Madam Prime Minister Hasina,

We, the 19 undersigned press freedom and human rights organizations, write to seek your administration’s urgent intervention to immediately end the harassment and intimidation of journalist Adhora Yeasmean, who faces an investigation under the Digital Security Act (DSA) for her April 29 video report for RTV on the alleged crimes of the religious organization Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif. The authorities should immediately drop their investigation into Yeasmean.

We have also received disturbing reports that Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif members have conducted unlawful surveillance of Yeasmean since mid-July, continually following her and threatening to file additional complaints against her and her family members in retaliation for her reporting. The authorities must swiftly investigate these threats, hold the perpetrators accountable, and ensure her physical and psychological safety and security.

We also call on the Government of Bangladesh to dismiss the DSA investigation into the journalist’s interviewee and co-accused, Akramul Ahsan Kanchan, who has been targeted in this case for claiming in Yeasmean’s report that Shakerul Kabir, one of Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif’s leaders, took possession of the properties of locals based on false promises of financial gain.

Legal retaliation against a source in journalistic reporting is an act of intimidation that inhibits the functioning of a free press. Journalism is not a crime, and the media should be free and empowered to cover local and national developments in Bangladesh without fear of reprisal by subjects of reporting or the authorities. This is particularly relevant in the run-up to the January 2024 national election.

Further, while we welcome the government’s recent decision to repeal the DSA, the draft of the law’s replacement, the Cyber Security Act, retains several repressive sections previously used to stifle independent journalism and human rights, including freedom of expression, privacy, and liberty in Bangladesh.

We urge your administration to consult with and incorporate feedback from civil society organizations, journalists, and other stakeholders to ensure that the new legislation aligns with international human rights standards, upholds the rights to freedom of expression and media freedom as guaranteed under the Constitution of Bangladesh, and does not place journalists and human rights defenders at constant risk of criminalization for their work. The authorities should immediately drop all DSA charges against those targeted under the law solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and release those held on these charges.

Your administration can start by addressing the wrongful accusations against Yeasmean. On May 13, the Chittagong Cyber Tribunal registered Kabir’s complaint accusing Yeasmean and Kanchan of violating three sections of the DSA, and the police were ordered to investigate. In violation of her right to due process, it took nearly two months for Yeasmean to learn about the case, since Dhaka’s Tejgaon Police Station called her only on July 8, by which time the investigation had already been transferred to the Noakhali Criminal Investigation Department, about 173 kilometers (107 miles) from her home.

In May, Kanchan was convicted and imprisoned in a separate “fraud” case, which his lawyer Shishir Manir claims is an act of retaliation for alleging to the media that Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif had engaged in “land grabbing,” and for organizing collective legal action against the organization in 2021, leading to three court-ordered government probes. One of these probes found Pir Dillur Rahman, Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif’s head, and his followers had lodged 49 “fictitious” criminal complaints, including those of human trafficking, violence against women, and attempt to murder, against Kanchan due to a property dispute. We call for an independent and transparent commission of inquiry to thoroughly and impartially investigate the circumstances surrounding Kanchan’s detention and to release the findings to the public.

We urge the Government of Bangladesh to swiftly follow procedure to dismiss the DSA case against Yeasmean and Kanchan by submitting a final report to the cyber tribunal and ensuring that they, like others targeted under the law solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, are not subjected to further retaliation.

Signed:

Amnesty International

ARTICLE 19 South Asia

Asian Human Rights Commission

Bangladeshi Journalists in International Media

Capital Punishment Justice Project

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ)

Committee to Protect Journalists

Forum for Freedom of Expression, Bangladesh

Free Press Unlimited

IFEX

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

International Women’s Media Foundation

PEN America

PEN Bangladesh

PEN International

Reporters Without Borders

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

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CC: Mr. Asaduzzaman Khan
Minister of Home Affairs
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]

CC: Mr. Anisul Huq
Minister of Law, Justice, and Parliament
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]

CC: Mr. Md. Faridul Haque Khan
Minister of Religious Affairs
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]

CC: Mr. A.K. Abdul Momen
Minister of Foreign Affairs
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]

CC: Mr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed
Chairperson of National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh
People’s Republic of Bangladesh
[email protected]