Bangladesh charges photojournalist under Digital Security Act for 'false news'

A journalist in Bangladesh was slapped with charges under the country’s draconian Digital Security Act (DSA)-- often allegedly used to muzzle independent, opposition, and anti-government voices--for, what the authority says, circulating “false news in social media.”

Sep 08, 2021
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Bangladesh charges photojournalist

A journalist in Bangladesh was slapped with charges under the country’s draconian Digital Security Act (DSA)-- often allegedly used to muzzle independent, opposition, and anti-government voices--for, what the authority says, circulating “false news in social media.”

Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a photojournalist in Bangladesh, was first named as an accused along with 31 others in March last year in an FIR filed by Saifuzzaman Shikhar, a member of Parliament from the ruling Awami League party. The MP accused the former of publishing defamatory news about him.

Although the court accepted the charges, Kajol was granted bail on the same day. On an earlier occasion, when he was granted bail, authorities had not released him and instead extended his detention under another complaint. 

Significantly, following the complaint in March last year, Kajol went missing, only to be found 53 days later near the border with India. Police claimed he was trying to cross the border illegally--a claim contested by human rights organizations.  

“There is strong evidence to suggest that while Kajol was missing, he was in the custody of security forces,” the HRW said in a statement in August last year. Importantly, police on Tuesday pressed charges only against Kajol, and the rest of the 31 people, also named in the same FIR, didn’t face any charges.  

“The charge sheet stated that Kajol posted defamatory, objectionable, and indecent writings on Facebook about several leaders and activists of the Awami League [the country’s ruling party] and Jubo Mohila League,” reported The Daily Star newspaper.  

Dhaka has faced criticism by civil society groups, and the European Union for the "arbitrary" arrests and detentions of people under the DSA, with many of them calling for the repeal of the Act. Journalists, bloggers, commentators, and politicians with critical views on the government have been targeted by the authority, activists allege.  

Furthermore, cases of disappearances of people--mostly critical of the ruling dispensation--have risen sharply in the past few years. Over 600 people were "forcibly disappeared" by security forces since the current government took charge, as per a report by the HRW, with dozens were found dead later. 

Since its introduction in 2018, over 433 people have been imprisoned under the DSA till July this year. Rory Mungoven, the head of the UN Human Rights Commission's (OHCHR) Asia-Pacific section, in an interview to DW news, had said many provisions in Bangladesh's Digital Security Act were vaguely defined to target government critics. 

(SAM)