The lightning speed at which the government administration and machinery are running after journalists is worrisome: is the Digital Security Act meant for justice, or for intimidation?
Shamim A. Zahedy
The very photographs of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal handcuffed behind the back paint the sickness of society that everyone lives in. The manner in which police escorted and produced him at a Jashore court on 3 May 2020 coinciding with World Press Freedom Day is an irony, indeed.
What was the crime of the journalist, who went missing on March 10, 2020 following a case filing under Digital Security Act by a ruling party lawmaker? No, that was not just one case, more cases implicating him were filed over press reports by the ruling party activists, men and women.
The journalist was initially arrested in a case on charge of ‘illegally entering Bangladesh’ through bordering town of Benapole after he was found almost after two months. The Border Guard of Bangladesh said the journalist was arrested over ‘trespassing’.
The Digital Security Act enacted in 2018, the successor of previous ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Act 2006, is in fact being used indiscriminately only to muzzle, or at least threaten, journalists and rights activists.
In its latest development under the same Digital Security Act, three journalists were sent to jail by a Narsingdi court in a case filed over quoting a police official without making any contact with him.
According to media reports, two local newspapers in Narsingdi district published reports about a man’s death reportedly in police custody in which they quoted a police official allegedly without contacting him. The police man immediately filed a case against the journalists.
Very recently, again under the Digital Security Act, bdnews24.com Editor-in-Chief and jagonews24.com acting editor among others were sued by local ruling party men in Dinajpur district for press reports over misappropriation of relief goods meant for poor people facing hard days in the novel coronavirus-induced countrywide lockdown.
Of course, journalists are not above the law. If they commit professional mistakes and wrongdoings, they must be made accountable before the law.
In the first line of action, the aggrieved person can seek redress by sending a rejoinder, which is an established norm being practised over the generations.
Next comes the filing of a case against a journalist or against the organization he or she represents with Bangladesh Press Council, which is now quite functional dealing this kind of issues. One can just visit the website of the council to find a long list of case verdicts published in the digital space.
But with Shafiqul Islam Kajal, no one, neither the lawmaker nor the police official, is following the due process but resorting to the draconian Digital Security Act. The lightning speed at which the government administration and machinery are running after journalists is also worrisome: is this law meant for justice, or for intimidation?
However, some government officials have changed the well-trodden path. Take the example of Kurigram journalist Ariful Islam who was jailed at midnight literally after he was picked up by a mobile court in mid March 2020 from his house for ‘possessing’ 450ml local liquor and 100g hemp.
The administration officials including Kurigram deputy commissioner and executive magistrate, who were later withdrawn as part of administrative measures, had previous enmity with the newsman over press reporting, leading to making a false plot to frame him.
While Bangladesh slipped one place to 151st out of 180 countries in 2020 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF), said the coming decade would be decisive for the future of journalism in the world when it comes to press freedom.
However, it is encouraging at least to see Bangladesh’s information minister say that the role of free, independent and responsible media is very crucial to build a multifaceted society. He spoke this on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day 2020. But the minister must now muster up action to take Bangladesh to the upper side of the index.
Amid the global pandemic when people across the globe are faced with misinformation surrounding the new disease, Covid-19, United Nations chief António Guterres shed a light on the importance of journalism for every administration’s clarity: “The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.” Again the UN chief spoke on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.
With the pictures of photojournalist Shafiqul Islam Kajal handcuffed behind the back on the pages of newspapers leaving many people red-faced, this scribbler is having flashbacks of the ‘de-politicization’ move during 2007-08 army-backed caretaker government’s rule.
Then the politicians had to go through a kind of purge process, standing in the makeshift dock set up on the very premises of Sangsad Bhaban, or parliament building, at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar in capital Dhaka.
What a pathetic spectacle it was! The politicians were tried on no other place than the parliament building premises, the symbol of democracy. That was a dizzying experience for Bangladesh democracy as well.
Coming back to the treatment given to journalists in these trying times: don’t they deserve decent dealing by the people in uniform, who live on taxpayers’ money? Please note, the journalists are protected by the constitution of Bangladesh.
The writer is the Executive Editor of The Independent. E-Mail: email@example.com
First printed :
6 May, 2020 10:30:13 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 6 May, 2020 05:33:40 PM