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Online freedom of expression must be upheld: Rights defenders

By farjana - Posted on 11 November 2018


Bangladesh risks continued failures to fulfill its human rights obligations if the arbitrary arrest and detention of people exercising their right to online freedom of expression are maintained, right defenders have said at a workshop in Dhaka today (November 10). Organized by Voices for Interactive Choice and Empowerment (VOICE) in cooperation with Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the capacity-building workshop was titled ‘Free and open internet: Cyber peace, security, rights, and regulations’.

The right defenders said, continued surveillance and censorship are creating a culture of fear among internet users in Bangladesh. Youth leaders, women activists, bloggers, lawyers, journalists, and IT professionals discussed key challenges and civil society’s responsibility in the workshop.

Existing laws in Bangladesh including the ICT Act, and newly enacted Digital Security Act criminalize severely restrict online expression and inflict disproportionate punishment, rights defenders said.

Newly enacted Digital Security Act fails to respect minimum standards of universally acknowledged human rights, and the right to free speech and press protected by the national constitution, they said. The workshop urged for an extensive revision of the laws. Research findings on the state of online freedom of expression were shared in the symposium.

Civil society representatives said CSOs should plan long-term programs to raise critical awareness and build community resilience in the face of escalating censorship and barrage of litigation against online freedom of expression.

The day-long workshop was moderated by VOICE Executive Director Ahmed Swapan Mahmud. Learning sessions were facilitated by Tanzim Al Islam, Advocate, Bangladesh Supreme Court; Debabrata Chakraborty, Researcher, VOICE; Md Shahid Uddin Akbar, Chief Executive Officer, Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development (BIID); and Faruk Wasif, Assistant Editor, Daily Prothom Alo; Farhana Akter, Program Coordinator, VOICE.

Collaborative learning sessions were held on a wide range of topics including Bangladesh context of cyber peace and security; necessity for democratic struggle; online safety measures for rights defenders; legal aspects of cybercrime; gender-based online violence; and cyber-bullying.

Speakers urged that cyber violence against women and children, in particular, must get appropriate attention while the cybercriminals must be brought under punishment. Among others, ISOC Bangladesh Chapter’s General Secretary Kawsar Uddin, Senior Journalist Salahuddin Lablu, Senior Producer of TV Channel BanglaVission, Journalist at Channel-I Online Tanjima Elham Bristy, and CEO of Karmakutir Anjamul Alam Munier took part in the workshop.