THE sorry state of the freedom of the press has for long been a worrying issue for journalists and rights groups in Bangladesh, with state and non-state actors coming to use repressive handles to exacerbate the situation. International rights organisation and press freedom campaigner Article 19 in a statement has expressed concern about the deteriorating state of press freedom in Bangladesh. The organisation has criticised an unabated violence against journalists and has noted that three journalists were killed and 118 were injured in January–June — a DBC news production executive was found dead on June 8, a Patuakhali-based journalist was found dead on June 6 and a Cumilla-based journalist was shot dead on April 13. Besides, at least 118 journalists came under attack for performing their professional duties in the period. What is gravely worrying is that most of the incidents have not been properly investigated and the perpetrators have not been punished, giving rise to a culture of impunity. It has also resulted, as Article 19 says, in a culture of ‘self-censorship’ as journalists feel intimidated to discharge their duties.
Article 19 also decries the misuse of what it terms a ‘deeply flawed’ Digital Security Act and says that at least 35 cases against 71 journalists were filed under the law and 16 were arrested in 2021 while 10 cases were filed against 23 journalists under the law and three journalists were arrested in January–May 2022. The number of cases filed under the law has reached, as the Centre for Governance Studies says, about 4,000 since the passage of the law. A large number of the cases are against journalists. The World Press Freedom Index 2022 also points to the alarming state of press freedom in Bangladesh, ranked in the 162nd position out of 180 countries, 10 notches down from the 152nd in the 2021 index. Most South Asian neighbours were ranked above Bangladesh in the index. In 2021, a Committee to Protect Journalists report showed that at least 23 journalists were killed in Bangladesh in 1992–2021 while the torture and harassment of journalists continued unabated. At least 2,257 incidents of torture, harassment, threat by the law enforcement agencies, death threat by the ruling party or government officials or anonymous callers against journalists took place between January 2012 and September 2021 and at least 17 journalists were, as Ain O Salish Kendra says, killed while they carried out their professional duty and two others were murdered.
The government must realise that press freedom holds power to account and, thus, serves people and democracy. The government must, therefore, ensure that justice is delivered at the earliest in cases related to the murder of and attacks on journalists. The government must also amend the Digital Security Act to stop its misuse and abuse.