“Free Speech Under Assault” Adil Sakhawat, Bilkis Irani, Dhaka Tribune, 9 June, 2017

“ ‘Section 57 of the Act contradicts the country’s Constitution. Freedom of speech cannot exist if this law prevails’, Golam Murtoza, editor of Saptahik 2000, said. Dhaka Tribune publisher Kazi Anis Ahmed observed that ‘democracy is impossible when people do not have the right to speak their minds’ ”.

Section 57 of the ICT Act is now a tool for the Government to harass anyone who raises a voice against any of its activities. Over the last couple of years, there have been a rising number of attacks on free thinkers and civil society members for their views. The crisis is twofold:  1) radical fundamentalists are trying to restrain the voices that go against their ideology; and 2) the Government is restricting free speech with a law:  Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act. Human rights defender Sultana Kamal received threats from Qawmi madrasa-based platform Hefazat-e-Islam, following a comment on a TV talk show. A case has been filed against journalist Afsan Chowdhury, under the ICT Act, by a retired Army officer for alleged defamation in a Facebook post. Members from diverse professions are speaking out against the ongoing restriction of free speech, arguing we should have freedom of speech for all regardless of political or religious inclinations. But if anyone has a violent reaction to what others say, like the Hefazat leader did, those are the people who need to be taken to court. Chaina Patwary, an activist of Bangladesh Students Union, was arrested on June 2 and is still in jail. She made comments on her Facebook page “hurting religious sentiment”. Former Bangladesh Bank deputy Governor Khandker Ibrahim Khaled slammed the Government for not arresting the Hefazat leader who made death threats against Sultana Kamal. Lawyer and rights activist Sara Hossain: “This law has been made in a way that police are given immense power to pick up anyone anytime”. Section 57 of the ICT Act stipulates that any post, image, or video on an electronic format that “causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or hurt religious beliefs”, are non-bailable offences.

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“Free Speech Under Assault” Adil Sakhawat, Bilkis Irani, Dhaka Tribune, 9 June, 2017

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