The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists, has expressed grave concern to the government of Bangladesh over recent attacks on journalists and the detention of noted photojournalist Shahidul Alam.
In a letter, IPI urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to take robust steps to prevent violence against journalists and to ensure the release of Alam and that all charges against him be dropped, according to a report published on its website on Thursdday.
“We note with great concern a series of recent attacks on working journalists, several of which were reportedly carried out by supporters of your party as well as, in the case of journalists covering the ongoing student protests, by security forces”, IPI Head of Advocacy Ravi R.
Prasad said in the letter,“ These attacks indicate that your party has grown intolerant of independent journalists and critics and that it is deploying its cadres to crush journalistic coverage of dissent, which is contrary to the democratic values your government claims to uphold.”
Describing the arrest and prosecution of Shahidul Alam as a clear infringement of freedom of expression as guaranteed under international treaties signed by Bangladesh the letter further noted that Alam has been charged with spreading propaganda and false information against the government due to Facebook posts and an interview he gave to Al Jazeera.
These charges, the letter said, which are based on the controversial Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, appear to be an act of retaliation for Alam’s critical views.
The letter recalled the role press freedom played in Bangladesh’s independence struggle, highlighting that on the night of March 25, 1971, a group of journalists broke the news of a genocide carried out by the Pakistani occupation army to the world, helping to build a strong public opinion around the world in support of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The writers of Bangladesh’s constitution recognized the importance of a free press by guaranteeing press freedom.
“We urge you to keep this spirit in mind and ensure that constitutional protections for the press are upheld”, Prasad said.
The letter also stressed the IPI network’s great concern over the Bangladesh government’s planned move to replace the ICT Act with the Digital Security Act, provisions of which are equally or more draconian and will restrict the right of journalists to expose acts of corruption that Hasina’s government had promised to eradicate.
“The bill if approved by Parliament in the current form will have a serious, oppressive impact not only on journalists but also on all citizens of Bangladesh”, the letter said.