“Words cannot be killed”- shining light on the fight for freedom of expression in Bangladesh


Freedom of expression was caught in crossfire in Bangladesh in 2015. Secular bloggers and foreign aid workers have been the targets of extremist groups and the Government continued use its power to curb freedom of expression.  It is very concerning that last year, several bloggers have lost their lives in extremely violent attacks due to their writings and views. According to various sources, a number of writers and journalists have been identified on a public “hit-list” which forced them to go into hiding.[1] A journalist was arrested on 16 August 2015 and charged with defaming a Government official on Facebook under the Information and Communication Technology  Ac (ICT Act).[2]

The ICT Act, which was passed by the Parliament in 2006 to address issues emerging due to internet usage and it supposedly aimed to protect freedom of expression online. The first case where the ICT Act was used to arrest four bloggers was in April 2013. They wrote about various topics including religious extremism. Following the case in August 2013, Government amended the Act. Several organizations both in Bangladesh and on an international level has raised their concern about this amendment and especially about changes in Section 57.[3] This section was focusing on punishment for fake, obscene or defaming information. The main concern was that the new amendment would have allowed law enforcement forces to detain anyone without any warrant and sentence them up to 14 years.[4] Despite the concerns of the civil society Bangladesh Government amended ICT Act and four bloggers, who were arrested under ICT law, faced the new harsher penalty. [5]

Exactly a year ago Avijit Roy, a Bangladeshi-American activist  blogger and writer was hacked to death by extremists. He was not only active through his publications but himself also advocated for freedom of expression in Bangladesh. His death not only shocked the close family and friends but echoed through international media, raising attention to impunity surrounding  targeted attacks. [6]

There is an urgent need for change in Bangladesh, especially to uphold and protect freedom of expression which is guaranteed by Article 39(2)[7] of Bangladesh’s Constitution and also under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)[8] which was ratified by Bangladesh in 2000. Under the crossfire, civil society continues its work to advocate for freedom expression with a unified voice.  

 For more information please contact: Naz Tuncay, Human Rights Officer, ntuncay@ghrd.org

[2] See more at:  https://www.fidh.org/en/region/asia/bangladesh/bangladesh-two-more-journalists-arrested-government-trying-to-silence

Medical Health camp at Gazipur, Dhaka organized by GHRD

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Ahmedi Pakistani community has boycotted elections for 30 years.