The government must come forward to counter hate speech, misinformation and should take immediate steps to facilitate access to information to the public to ensure transparency and accountability, speakers at a consultation meeting held in Dhaka have said.
Hate speech in the country is widespread both in physical space and online, they said.
The consultation titled ”Countering hate speech, misinformation and strengthening access to information” was organised by VOICE, a research and advocacy organisation, with the support of UNDP Human Rights Programme, said a press release on Saturday.
Eminent journalist Saleem Samad, Freedom of Expression Monitoring Officer of Article 19 Bangladesh Maria Salam, filmmaker Golam Rabbani Biplob and senior lecturer of BRAC University Saimum Reza Piash spoke as panel speakers.
The speakers said that the most obvious expression of online sexist hate speech in the country is the view that “certain kinds” of women invite rape upon them or deserve to be raped.
Furthermore, they said that speeches by the Islamic clerics in waz mahfils and other religious gatherings demean and humiliate into being nothing more than body parts and they believe women who do not behave in certain ways deserve to be punished somehow.
The recorded videos of the waz mahfils uploaded on YouTube goes viral and those encourage others to spread hate speech which is alarmingly increasing. A large part of the hate speech also instigates on social media, hatred is spread mainly on Facebook and YouTube against religious and ethnic minority communities intended to evict people from their land or take political benefit, the speakers said.
“If we cannot take appropriate measures to stop hate speech, it will ultimately increase violence against women and social harmony, peace and inclusiveness will be at stake,” the keynote speaker Abtab Khan Shawon said before moving to some notable incidents.
Due to hatred and misinformation at least 12 monasteries and 30 households in Ramu, seven monasteries and 11 houses in Ukhiya and Teknaf were torched during an attack in 2012, he said.
He also recalled the Bhola incident. “At least four people were killed and more than a hundred others injured as religious zealots clashed with police in Bhola’s Borhanuddin upazila over a hate conversation spread through Facebook and messenger. The zealots torched a house and vandalised 12 more belonging to the Hindu community in Borhanuddin municipality,” he said.
“A youth from Sylhet threatened to kill the Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan in a video post on Facebook accusing the cricketer of blasphemy as he attended kali puja in Kolkata,” Abtab Khan Shawon further said.
Executive Director of VOICE Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, who moderated the conference, said, “The difference between freedom of expression and hate speech is getting blurred. Under these circumstances responsible use of social media platforms rather than strict regulations is necessary.”
Journalist Saleem Samad mentioned how the practice of freedom of expression becomes limited in families.
“In families, what a father says becomes the final decision, seniors often are intolerant of younger’s opinions which reflects in people’s behaviour in life afterwards,” he said.
How the mainstream media is partly responsible for the current surge in misinformation was also discussed.
Saimum Reza Piash said freedom in digital space has become an issue globally. In case of misinformation, media houses can simply withdraw a piece of news rather than enforcing law upon them without criminalising the expression.
Maria Salam from Article 19 said the situation was not built up in a day and it will not vanish overnight. Educational institutions and families have to spread more positivity.
“Often media houses disseminate news without fact-checking to sustain in the competition which has to stop,” she said.
The speakers said that there is a need to make the balance between free speech and misinformation and hate speech. Firstly, we have to be responsible users and know the difference between freedom of speech and hate speech.
Source: Business Insider