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CARTOONIST TORTURED, WRITER DIES IN JAIL

Cartoonist tortured, writer dies in jail

Bangladesh map
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Ahmed Kabir Kishore, 46, a prominent Bangladeshi cartoonist told Amnesty International that he was severely tortured from 2 to 5 May 2020 in custody of one or more state security agencies prior to his arrest being officially recorded. On 5 May 2020 unit 3 of the Rapid Action Battalion or RAB-3 officially recorded his arrest along with Mushtaq Ahmed, 53, a Bangladeshi writer for posting on Facebook satirical cartoons and comments critical of the Bangladeshi government’s response to COVID-19 pandemic and ruling political party leaders under the country’s draconian Digital Security Act. The two had been held in pretrial detention for nine months. Since May 2020, they have been denied bail at least six times.

Mushtaq Ahmed died in prison on 25 February 2021. Protests erupted in Dhaka after his death demanding justice for Mushtaq Ahmed and release of Ahmed Kabir Kishore along with the repeal of the draconian Digital Security Act. Bangladesh’s High Court granted Ahmed Kabir Kishore bail for only six months on 3 March 2021. Authorities released Ahmed Kabir Kishore, a week after Mushtaq Ahmed died.

The cartoonist said that when Mushtaq Ahmed and he were brought to the RAB-3 station in Khilgaon, Dhaka, he discovered that Mushtaq Ahmed too was tortured in custody of state security agencies. The Rapid Action Battalion’s spokesperson Lt Col Ashiq Billah rejected the allegations saying to a local media that “an aggrieved person can say anything.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that the investigation into his death in custody is prompt, transparent and independent.
Ahmed Kabir Kishore is an insulin-dependent diabetic patient. He suffered from severely high levels of blood sugar between 18 and 30 millimoles per litre during his incarceration. He bled through his right ear during the torture and, as a result, cannot hear anything with right ear. In addition, he has since experienced severe pain in his left knee and ankle and has difficulty walking now. He requires urgent and proper medical attention.

Mushtaq Ahmed’s death in prison is the “effect of the authority’s cruel practice of prolonging detention of people” said Amnesty International. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has observed that the “harassment, intimidation or stigmatization of a person, including arrest, detention, trial or imprisonment for reasons of the opinions they may hold, constitutes a violation of article 19, paragraph 1.”

The Committee further observed, “the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties. The Committee has expressed concern regarding “laws on such matters as…disrespect for authority, disrespect for flags and symbols, defamation of the head of state and the protection of the honour of public officials, and laws should not provide for more severe penalties solely on the basis of the identity of the person that may have been impugned. States parties should not prohibit criticism of institutions, such as the army or the administration.”

Nine others have been accused in the same case for publishing “false information” and “propaganda against the liberation war, the spirit of liberation war, father of the nation”, which could “deteriorate law and order” by “supporting or organizing crime” under sections 21, 25, 31 and 35 of Bangladesh’s draconian Digital Security Act. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison with fines up to 10 million Bangladeshi takas.

Gower Rizvi, international affairs adviser to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said in an interview to the Deutsche Welle on 11 February 2021 that the Digital Security Act is open to abuse. “Sadly, we have now learnt that some of the wordings are very loose and vague, which leaves it open to its abuse,” he said.

Amnesty International has repeatedly called on Bangladesh’s government to repeal the Digital Security Act unless it can be amended in compliance with international human rights law including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
 

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ROHINGYA REFUGEES DETAINED ON REMOTE ISLAND

Rohingya refugees detained on remote island

Myanmar Rohingya crisis
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Nearly one million Rohingya, a persecuted mostly Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled waves of violent attacks in the country since 1978 and sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh. The overwhelming majority of them began arriving three years ago, starting on 25 August 2017, when more than 740,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar, after their homes were burned, and at least 10,000 Rohingya men, women and children were killed in the Myanmar military’s crimes against humanity.

The Bhashan Char, which in English translates to “floating island”, was developed by the Bangladesh Navy and emerged from silt in the Bay of Bengal about 20 years ago. “Its dense mat of cellular housing blocks, encircling embankment and the ocean do not suggest infrastructure conducive to civilian life, but rather the kinds of infrastructure associated with incarceration,” wrote Lindsay Bremner, a professor of architecture at the University of Westminster, in an article titled “Sedimentary logics and the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh”, published in the ScienceDirect in March 2020.

In September 2020, Amnesty International released the briefing “Let Us Speak for our Rights”, where two Rohingya refugees said that they heard accounts of sexual harassment at the hands of police and Navy officials on the island. Instead of commissioning prompt and impartial investigation into the allegations, the authorities vehemently refused. 

Two weeks prior to the relocation in December 2020, five family members, who represent 23 Rohingya refugees, told Amnesty International that they signed up to relocate to Bhashan Char out of compulsion rather than a choice.
A Rohingya woman on the list for relocation told Amnesty International that she registered to go to the island because her husband is there. As a single parent, with a young child and without any relatives in the camp, she has been facing many problems. “It’s very difficult to live this refugee life. I don’t have any other option. It seems that the government will never allow my husband to get out of the island,” she said.

Two Rohingya families were put on the list for relocation after they reported partial damage of their shelters to government officials and the majhi - a Rohingya community leader selected by Bangladeshi authorities. Instead of having their shelters repaired, they were told that they must relocate to Bhashan Char.

Humanitarian staff in the healthcare sector have expressed grave concerns about the relocation. A Rohingya patient of expressed “complete panic” ahead of the relocation, saying he was being forced to go to Bhashan Char. “He doesn't know whether he's going to continue to receive medications there and wanted to collect a few months’ worth,” said of the staff members. 

Staff of the prominent healthcare facility told Amnesty International that some of these refugees are on regular medications. As It is unknown whether health care will be made available on the Bhashan Char, there is grave concern their health could destabilize.

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Bangladesh is a state party, guarantees everyone the right to liberty and prohibits arbitrary detention and deprivation of liberty except with procedures established by law. Article 12 of the ICCPR guarantees everyone within a territory of a state the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose their residence. 
 

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Bangladesh: Halt relocation of Rohingya refugees to remote island immediately

Rohingya refugees walk near a fence that is being constructed around the refugee camp on December 11, 2019
Rohingya refugees walk near a fence that is being constructed around the refugee camp on December 11, 2019 © Getty Sub Sept/Oct 2020

In response to the relocation of hundreds of Rohingya refugees to the Bhashan Char, a remote island in the Bay of Bengal, Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said: “The authorities should immediately halt relocation of more refugees to Bhashan Char, return those on the island to their families and community in mainland Bangladesh. “The relocation of so many Rohingya refugees to a remote island, which is still off limits to everyone including rights groups and journalists without prior permission, poses grave concerns about independent human rights monitoring. “It is

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Bangladesh: Plan to relocate hundreds of Rohingya to remote island must be dropped

Rohingya refugees walk near a fence that is being constructed around the refugee camp on December 11, 2019
Rohingya refugees walk near a fence that is being constructed around the refugee camp on December 11, 2019 © Getty Sub Sept/Oct 2020

Bay of Bengal silt island not declared safe for human habitation Refugees in Cox’s Bazar say they’ve been coerced into registering for relocation ‘The Bangladeshi authorities must let the UN carry out an assessment of Bhashan Char’ - Omar Waraich The Bangladeshi authorities must abandon plans to relocate more than 100 Rohingya families to a remote island in the Bay of Bengal which has not been declared safe for human habitation, Amnesty International said today. According to local media reports, Bangladesh has completed preparations to relocate up to 400 Rohingya refugees to the silt island of

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Bangladesh: authorities must protect Rohingya refugees from gang violence

A police patrol inside Kutupalong refugee camp in the district of Ukhia last year © AFP via Getty Images

Violent clashes have broken out between gangs over the trade of drugs in Cox’s Bazar, triggering at least 2,000 refugees to flee to other camps Eight dead and hundreds injured since 4 October despite additional security being brought in ‘The situation inside the camps is highly precarious and there’s a serious risk of further bloodshed’ - Saad Hammadi Bangladeshi authorities must protect Rohingya refugees following violent clashes between armed criminal gangs that have killed at least eight people and injured hundreds of others in Cox’s Bazar over the past week, Amnesty International said

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BANGLADESH DETAINS MORE MIGRANT WORKERS

Bangladesh detains more migrant workers

Bangladesh
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Bangladeshi authorities have sent to jail at least 370 returning migrant workers since 4 July 2020. The latest victims of this arbitrary detention include 32 Bangladeshi workers who were sent to jail on 28 September. The workers were arrested in Syria while attempting to migrate to Italy, Greece and other European countries through recruitment brokers. The Syrian government commuted their jail terms due to the COVID-19 pandemic and sent them to Lebanon. They arrived in Bangladesh on 13 September, stayed in quarantine for two weeks. Afterwards the police sent them to jail.

Amnesty International has obtained copies of gravely concerning police requests to Dhaka’s magistrate court seeking detention of the workers until they can determine their offence. The police stated that the workers have “tarnished the image of the country” by allegedly engaging criminal activities abroad and could engage in crimes within Bangladesh in future. It is even more distressing that Dhaka’s magistrate court has granted such requests without any specific allegation against the individuals, in violation of international human rights law including the Article 9 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

This arrest of the 32 workers follows a disturbing trend since 4 July 2020, when the police sought detention of 219 Bangladeshi workers – 141 from Kuwait, 39 from Bahrain and 39 from Qatar – on the same ground. On 21 July, the police sought detention of another 36 returning migrant workers from Qatar citing that they could engage in robbery, family conflicts or terrorism if they are released. On 1 September, the police sent another 81 returning migrant workers from Vietnam and 2 others from Qatar to jail on similar grounds and charges. 

All the workers were sent to jail under section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which allows the police to arrest someone on the basis of having “reasonable suspicion” that they may be involved in an act of offence outside Bangladesh.

Shahin, 28, had worked in Lebanon as a tailor for four years. His father Liton Borhania, 50, told Amnesty International that he paid nearly $6,000 (BDT 500,000) to recruitment brokers to facilitate Shahin’s travel to Lebanon in February 2015. Since then Shahin, the eldest five brothers and one sister, has been supporting his family with household expenditures and his younger siblings’ educational expenses.

Many Bangladeshis become victims of human trafficking in the hope of finding a well-paying job abroad, particularly in the Gulf countries. They are exploited by traffickers who promise them steady jobs and good money only to be subsequently exploited by employers for less pay, more work or threatened with jail terms for illegal stays [See: Amnesty International, COVID-19 makes Gulf countries’ abuse of migrant workers impossible to ignore, 30 April 2020].

Rights activists in Bangladesh have said that by arresting the workers, who have served their sentences in the foreign land or been through traumatic experience after they were exploited by human traffickers, it is the Bangladesh government itself which is tarnishing the image of the country.
 

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PROFESSOR TERMINATED FOR FACEBOOK POST

Professor terminated for Facebook post

Prime Minister of Bangladesh Visit India
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Photo Copyright Credit: NurPhoto via Getty Images

 

On 10 September 2020, A.K.M. Wahiduzzaman learnt for the first time that he was being dismissed from service after the Bangladesh’s state-run National University issued a press release stating that he was being terminated for posting on Facebook remarks about the country’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her family. The circular stated that the university’s syndicate took this decision on 2 September on grounds of “negligence of duty”, “misconduct”, “absconding” and “fraud” under the discipline and appeal rules 4 of the Service Rules of National University.
“I was not aware that [the university authorities] framed this allegation against me and I did not get an opportunity to defend myself,” said A.K.M. Wahiduzzaman.

His termination violates the university’s service rules, which require the authorities to ensure his right to defend himself for the allegations under the discipline and appeal rule 8 of the Service Rules. The university’s press release attributes his termination to a Facebook post for which he has been accused under section 57 of Bangladesh’s draconian Information and Communication Technology Act. The authority’s action further violates rule 16 of the discipline and appeals of Service Rules of the National University which stipulates a stay on any penalty of the university if the issue is pending trial at the court.

The university professor could face at least seven years in jail if he is convicted under the law. Its vaguely worded clauses empower the authorities to prosecute people “in the interest of sovereignty, integrity or security of Bangladesh” or if they are deemed to “prejudice the image of the State or person” or “hurt religious belief”.
Currently in self-exile for fear of persecution, A.K.M. Wahiduzzaman told Amnesty International that he has not received any letter from the university to defend himself in either his present or permanent address in Bangladesh. 

A.K.M Wahiduzzaman’s termination demonstrates a worrying pattern of repression against teachers in public universities for exercising their right to freedom of expression. On 9 September, Morshed Hasan Khan, a professor of the University of Dhaka, was terminated for writing an opinion piece in 2018 which, according to university authorities, “distorted liberation war history” and “disrespected the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”.
In June 2020, two other public university teachers, Kazi Jahidur Rahman of Rajshahi University and Sirajum Munira of Begum Rokeya University, have been accused under the draconian Digital Security Act for posting criticisms on Facebook about a senior politician of the ruling party Awami League, Mohammad Nasim, who passed away in the same month.

The Digital Security Act, which was introduced in October 2018 as a replacement to the ICT Act, expanded the earlier law into ways that not only curbs people's right to freedom of expression but also empowers the security apparatus to breach into people's right to privacy on digital platforms and social media.
 

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PROFESSOR SACKED AND THREATENED

Professor sacked and threatened

Remains from the ashes, © Ahmer Khan
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Professor Morshed Hasan Khan wrote an opinion piece on the role played by the late Bangladeshi president Ziaur Rahman during the war of independence and in post-war Bangladesh, in the Daily Naya Diganta newspaper on 26 March 2018. The political history of Bangladesh has been bitterly contested by major political parties and different governments attempted to highlight their versions of the history.

On 2 April 2018, the Dhaka University Registrar’s office, in an official letter, discharged Professor Morshed from all academic and administrative duties, accusing him of “distorting the liberation war history” and “disrespecting the father of the nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman”. On 28 May 2018, Dhaka University Syndicate formed a five-member inquiry committee led by Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university to investigate these allegations. 

For nearly two years, the case was shelved for unknown reasons. On 12 February 2020, the university authority informed Professor Morshed, in a written letter, that a tribunal had been formed to try the allegations brought against him in 2018.The tribunal gave him seven days to respond to the accusations, which he did. Professor Morshed was dismissed on 9 September 2020.

Procedural flaws during the hearing impeded Professor Morshed’s right to defend himself against the accusations. According to Rule 56(3) of Dhaka University Order 1973, a teacher can only be dismissed on the grounds of “moral turpitude” or “inefficiency.” The same rule says that “no such teacher or officer shall be dismissed unless an inquiry into the charges of moral turpitude or inefficiency is held by an Enquiry Committee on which the teacher or the officer may be represented by a person nominated by him”. A member of the Enquiry Committee, who has given a note of dissent to the Committee’s decision citing these grounds, told Amnesty International that “there is a serious procedural flaw observed in this trial as none of the two grounds provided by the Rule 56(3) to dismiss a teacher are relevant to the accusations brought against Professor Morshed.” Professor Morshed told Amnesty International that Rule 56(3) of the1973 Order also provides him to have a representative in the Enquiry Committee, which was denied in this case. 

On the day of his dismissal, a Dhaka University student affiliated with the student wing of the ruling party Awami League filed a case of sedition case with the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Court, Dhaka against Professor Morshed. The vaguely worded section 124A of the Bangladesh Penal Code is punishable with life imprisonment.
The vagueness of this section is that anyone can be charged merely for critiquing the government. The legal provisions like this are inconsistent with international human rights law and constitute a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that guarantees the right to freedom of expression and to which Bangladesh is a state party.

In March 2018, some unidentified persons called Professor Morshed and threatened him with death for his opinion in the article. Since then, he received multiple threats of death over phone and social media. Following the first threat in March 2018, he immediately called the University Proctor and sought protection.

In recent years, hundreds of people have been charged and detained under the draconian Digital Security Act 2018. Different provisions of the Act (sections 25, 26, 29 and 31, for example) provide broad and vague definitions of law and can be abused to frame people for merely expressing their opinion. In November 2018, Amnesty International released a report titled “Muzzling Dissent Online”, which outlined sections within the DSA which are inconsistent with international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and called on the Bangladesh government to promptly amend the law, and bring it into conformity with international standards.
 

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300 RETURNING MIGRANT WORKERS ARRESTED

300 returning migrant workers arrested

Uncertain Lives - Rohingya stories from a global pandemic
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Bangladesh authorities sent more than 300 returning migrants to jail between in phases between July and September under section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which allows the police to arrest someone on the basis of having “reasonable suspicion” that they may be involved in an act of offence outside Bangladesh. 

On 5 July 2020 Bangladesh’s police sent to jail 219 Bangladeshi workers who had returned from Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain since May. According to the police application made to a metropolitan magistrate court in Dhaka on 4 July, the returnees – 141 workers from Kuwait, 39 from Bahrain and 39 from Qatar – were in jails of those countries for committing “various offences”, which were not specified. The workers were deported to Bangladesh after the authorities in those countries commuted their sentences. 

One such case was that of Mohammad Shahin Alam, 25, whose visa expired three months after arriving in Bahrain in 2016. However, he continued to work there as a pipefitter to pay back his father’s debts that he had incurred in sending Mohammad Shahin Alam to Bahrain. In 2020, Shahin began exploring the possibility of renewing his visa, in the hope of finding a better paying job. As a result, he was sent to jail for staying and working in the country without a valid visa. After serving 21 days in jail in Bahrain, he returned to Bangladesh on 25 June. He called his father on 5 July to say that he was being released from a quarantine facility. However, five minutes later, he again called to say that there were a lot of policemen outside his premise. Approximately eight days later, he called his father to tell him he had been sent to Kashimpur jail in Gazipur. Mohammad Shahin Alam’s father does not know why his son is being kept in jail.

Bangladesh’s police told the metropolitan magistrate court that the 219 migrant workers had “tarnished the image of Bangladesh” by engaging in criminal activities abroad and that they should be detained for as long as an investigation continued against them to determine their offence. However, in so doing the police did not offer any specific evidence and grounds for their arrest and continued detention in Bangladesh. The Dhaka court however, granted the police request to keep the workers in jail.

Separately, on 1 September, Bangladeshi authorities sent to jail 81 Bangladeshi migrant workers who had returned to the country from Vietnam on 18 August after they were exploited by recruitment brokers. They had each paid between approximately USD $4700 and $5900 to brokers on the promise of factory jobs, said Md. Alamgir, one of the returnees to a local newspaper. Instead they found themselves in temporary jobs that lasted less than one month for some of the migrants with a payment of less than USD $83 per month.

Taijuddin, 35, was one of these workers who went to Vietnam on 25 December 2019 with a promise of a job at a furniture factory and a salary of about USD $306 (BDT 26,000) per month. After spending months without enough food and money and not able to send any remittance home, Taijuddin, returned to Bangladesh on 18 August.

Taijuddin’s wife quoted him saying “We have arrived, but they will keep us in quarantine for 14 days and then they will let us go,”. However, instead of returning home, the authorities sent him to the Dhaka Central Jail in Keraniganj on 1 September. Taijuddin’s wife, who now has her husband in jail for the foreseeable future, is in increasing debt, as she struggles to pay both the living expenses for her family and her son’s school costs. 

Many Bangladeshis become victims of human trafficking in the hope of finding a well-paying job abroad, particularly in the Gulf countries. They are exploited by traffickers who promise them steady jobs and good money only to be subsequently exploited by employers for less pay, more work or threatened with jail terms for illegal stays [See: Amnesty International, COVID-19 makes Gulf countries’ abuse of migrant workers impossible to ignore, 30 April 2020].

Rights activists in Bangladesh have said that by arresting the workers, who have served their sentences in the foreign land or been through traumatic experience after they were exploited by human traffickers, it is the Bangladesh government itself which is tarnishing the image of the country.
 

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EDITOR FACES DETENTION AFTER DISAPPEARANCE

Editor faces detention after disappearance

Shafiqul Islam Kajol
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Shafiqul Islam Kajol, 50, a Bangladeshi photographer and editor of a daily Dainik Pokkhokal, faces risk of an indefinite pre-trial detention, after possibly being a victim of enforced disappearance since 10 March 2020.

53 days after his disappearance, on 3 May 2020, the Bangladesh police said he was found near the border 100 yards inside Bangladesh. They filed a case against him under the Bangladesh Passport Order, 1973 for “trespassing” into his own country from neighbouring India without passport.

A magistrate court in Jashore granted him bail after he refused to plead guilty in the case, but soon after the police filed another case under section 54 of the Bangladesh Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, which empowers the police to detain a person without an arrest warrant, if the person is accused in a cognizable offence under the law of the land.

A day prior to his disappearance, a lawmaker from Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League party filed a case against him and 31 others under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) under sections 25, 26, 29 and 31 for publishing “false, offensive, illegally obtained and defamatory” content on Facebook that “could deteriorate law and order”. Another member of the ruling party filed a second case against him under sections 25, 26 and 29 of the Act, three hours after he was last seen leaving his office at 6:51PM on 10 March 2020. It now appears that a third case under the Act was filed against him the next day. If convicted in the charges he is accused of, he could face up to 7 years in prison.
In a video released by Amnesty International on 21 March 2020, CCTV footage shows at least three unidentified men approaching the journalist’s motorbike parked outside his office and appearing to tamper with it, moments before he is seen driving away with it.

His disappearance and the multiple cases filed against him follows a flurry of critical posts he made on Facebook about involvement of members of the ruling Awami League party in a sex trafficking ring being operated out of a five-star hotel in Dhaka.

In November 2018, Amnesty International released a report titled “Muzzling Dissent Online”, which outlined sections within the DSA which are inconsistent with international human rights law and standards, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Bangladesh is a state party and called on the Bangladesh government to promptly amend the law.

Under international human rights law, the mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties. In particular, the UN Human Rights Committee has called on states to consider the decriminalization of defamation, and instead treat it as a matter of civil litigation.

At least 14 offences under the DSA, including sections 26 and 31 that have been used against Shafiqul Islam Kajol, are non-bailable. The UN Human Rights Committee observed that harassment including arrest, trial, detention and imprisonment for reasons of an opinion a person may hold, constitutes a violation of article 19 of ICCPR.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Bangladesh to “urgently revise the Digital Security Act, to ensure that it is in line with international human rights law and that it provides for checks and balances against arbitrary arrest, detention, and other undue restrictions of the rights of individuals to the legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression and opinion”.

More than 1,000 cases have been filed under the DSA in Bangladesh since it was put into implementation in October 2018.
 

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