Free speech under attack as never before: HRW

Free speech under attack as never before: HRW

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Human Rights Watch, a New York-based international human rights watchdog, has said that free speech in Bangladesh is under attack as never before.
“Free speech in Bangladesh is under attack as never before, held hostage between angry, machete-wielding radicals on one hand and a government, quick to take offence, on the other,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the organisation.
In a statement issued on Tuesday she put emphasis to change course, adopt international standards, and uphold constitutional freedoms.
“Bangladesh needs to change course, adopt international standards, and uphold constitutional freedoms, and do it fast. Because as long as authorities continue to crush free speech, those who speak out risk losing their lives,” she observed in the statement titled “Dispatches: Bangladesh’s Machete Attacks on Free Speech.”
Meenakshi Ganguly highlighted the recent killings of bloggers, arrest of journalists and also the ‘shocking’ statements by the police.
The statement mentioned the killing of four bloggers in the country this year by religious extremists for promoting secularism, a principle which these groups consider to be anti-Islam.
Of them, Niladri Chakrabarti, who wrote about religious fundamentalism and secularism, in a photo from his Facebook page. He was hacked to death on August 7th.
Following the killing of blogger Niloy Neel earlier this month, Ansar Al Islam, an insurgent group linked to Al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility, saying they had the “permission of Allah” and warning of further attacks, wrote the author.
The statement said while police were aware of threats to Niloy Neel and the other slain bloggers, they failed to properly protect them.
The HRW director regretted that a reasonable government would have swiftly condemned these murders, and tried to hunt down the attackers but the police’s first instinct was to urge self-censorship, with Bangladesh’s inspector general of police, AKM Shahidul Hoque, warning that-may-hurt-religious-sensitivities that “hurting religious sentiments is a crime.”
“It took more than a week for police to arrest three suspects in Niloy Neel’s murder, despite the alleged perpetrators’ identities being known to the police,” said the statement.
It pointed out that the police chief’s comments were shocking, but not surprising, because Bangladeshi authorities are increasingly cracking down on freedom of expression. It also referred to the arrest of journalist Probir Sikder this week.
Last week, the statement said, a Bangladesh court sentenced IT lecturer Muhammad Ruhul Amin Khandaker in absentia to three years in prison for a 2011 Facebook post on the death of an acclaimed Bangladeshi filmmaker in a road accident, blaming politicians for not ensuring road safety and wondering how the prime minister was spared such mishaps.
And, the article added, just two weeks ago the police issued a statement criticising two prominent human rights groups for reporting on extrajudicial executions and other abuses by security forces, saying any activity that harms the police reputation amounts to defamation, and can be considered subversive.
The HRW called the authorities to follow national and international standards for human rights and freedom of expression and emphasised the need for doing it “fast”, because as long as authorities continue to crush free speech, those who speak out risk losing their lives.- Staff Reporter

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