South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional human rights defenders’ network expresses grave concern at the continued institution of cases in Bangladesh against individuals under Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act curtailing fundamental rights to freedom of expression and personal liberty. We note that the use of the law has resulted in hundreds of prosecutions of individuals simply for political criticism or comment or expressions of dissent. The threat of prosecution, including for comments on high officials of Government, is having an increasingly chilling effect on the press and civil society.
In the most recent incident, we note that cases have been filed under Section 57 for ‘hurt to the image of the nation’’ under the ICT Act and for defamation under the Penal Code against Professor Asif Nazrul of the University of Dhaka, a respected columnist and legal academic, and a Member of SAHR. The cases appear related to postings from an account regarding which Prof. Nazrul had publicly stated was not his and was fake.
We note with grave concern that the ICT is being used to harass and victimize people of dissenting opinions without giving them the opportunity of being heard and of defending themselves. We call on the Government of Bangladesh to identify the steps taken to repeal Section 57 of ICT Act and to ensure protection of the right to freedom of expression, and on the National Human Rights Commission to investigate this and other cases under Section 57 to assess compliance with the State’s obligations under international human rights law.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights,