The murders of secular activists by violent Islamist militants in Bangladesh have received considerable international and domestic attention, notes a new report from Amnesty international. However, they have taken place against a backdrop of a drastically shrinking space for freedom of expression, which has been less widely reported, the group notes in a new report:
Since its re-election for a second term in 2014, the ruling Awami League party under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has intensified a crackdown on public debate and criticism. The authorities have used criminal charges and other tactics to harass and interfere in the work of media outlets in an effort to silence critical reporting. To this end, the government has made use of a repressive legal framework, which contains a number of laws that stifle the right to freedom of expression. Some of these laws date back to the country’s colonial-era Penal Code, while others have been more recently introduced.
Ashif Rabi (right), a Bangladeshi journalist, TV personality, radio jockey and blogger is working to strengthen civic engagement and freedom of expression in the face of rising extremism and state repression. The former editor of Bicchu, a satirical Bengali-language cartoon magazine, in 2011, Mr. Rabi started the Magic Movement, which sought to bring positive change to Bangladeshi society. As a Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group, Rabi is exploring the creation of an online forum where Bangladeshi citizens may discuss political concerns without fear of persecution.
Amnesty’s report, Caught between fear and repression: Attacks on freedom of expression in Bangladesh, documents how restrictions have increased in Bangladesh since 2014. It focuses on three main aspects of this trend:
- the authorities’ failure to protect secular and other activists in the face of threats and attacks from armed groups;
- increasing restrictions on the media sector; and
- the country’s legal and regulatory framework.