In a country where freedom of speech, expression and press are not always guaranteed, it’s important to have a platform where people can freely share their thoughts and opinions. This is why we’re excited to launch our new blog, which will provide a space for people to discuss the issues that matter to them in Bangladesh.
Introduction: what is freedom of speech, expression and press?
Freedom of speech is the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or retribution. “Speech” is not limited to public speaking and is generally taken to include other forms of expression. The right is preserved in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is granted formal recognition by the laws of most nations. Nevertheless, the degree to which the right is upheld in practice varies greatly from one nation to another. Freedom of expression is also recognized as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and recognized in international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 19 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, through art, or through any other media of his choice”. Freedom of the press or freedom of the media refers to freedom from interference with regard to gathering, transmitting, publishing or disseminating information or ideas through print media, broadcasting media or electronic media. The coverage of events by newspapers, television channels or radio stations may be restricted by government decrees, licences or violence.
The history of freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh
The history of freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh can be traced back to the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century when Bengali social reformers such as Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Dwarkanath Vidyabagish and Keshab Chandra Sen advocated for social changes through their writings. In the early 20th century, Bengali Muslim intellectuals such as Syed Ameer Ali and Sultan Mahomed Shah began to call for an end to British rule in India.
After the partition of Bengal in 1947, the newly independent nation of Pakistan declared Islam as its state religion and limited the freedoms of speech, expression and press. This led to widespread protests by Bengali Muslims, which culminated in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Following the war, Bangladesh became a secular republic with guaranteed freedoms for all its citizens.
However, these freedoms have faced various challenges in recent years. In 2013, the government enacted a strict anti-blasphemy law that has been used to target minority religious groups and dissenters. In 2015, Bangladeshi-American atheist blogger Avijit Roy was murdered by Islamist radicals, and several other secularist writers have been killed or threatened since then. Freedom House has downgraded Bangladesh’s rating for freedom of the press twice since 2006, most recently in 2015.
Despite these challenges, freedom of speech, expression and press remains protected by Bangladesh’s constitution and there is a vibrant culture of media and journalism in the country.
The current situation of freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh
The current situation of freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh is worrying. According to the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Bangladesh ranks 146th out of 180 countries, making it one of the least free countries in the world for journalists. In 2018, the country saw a rise in attacks and threats against journalists, with at least 12 killed in connection with their work. The situation has only worsened since then, with several journalists being killed or attacked in 2019. In addition, several media outlets have been shut down and many journalists have been arrested or forced into exile. This climate of fear and intimidation has had a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
The challenges to freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guaranteeing freedom of speech, expression and press. However, the situation on the ground is far from ideal.
There are numerous challenges to freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh. One major challenge is the existence of laws that criminalize certain forms of speech. For example, section 57 of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Act 2013 imposes a two-year prison sentence for anyone who uses a telecommunications service to “cause annoyance or inconvenience” or to “endanger public safety or tranquility”. This provision has been used to arrest and charge journalists, bloggers and others for their online speech.
Another challenge is self-censorship by journalists and media outlets. This is often fueled by fear of reprisals from powerful individuals or groups. issued death threats against journalists who reported on his activities, leading many to self-censure their reporting for fear of retribution.
Finally, physical violence against journalists and others who speak out is also a significant problem in Bangladesh. In 2015, four secular bloggers were killed by machete-wielding attackers. Dozens of others have been attacked, threatened or forced into exile. The climate of fear created by these attacks further limits freedom of speech and expression in Bangladesh.
The role of the government in promoting or restricting freedom of speech, expression and press
In recent years, the Bangladeshi government has taken a number of steps to restrict freedom of speech, expression and press. In 2015, the government enacted the controversial Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which criminalizes a range of speech acts including justified criticism of the government. The law has been used to target journalists, online activists, and others who peacefully exercise their right to freedom of expression.
In 2016, the government also introduced a new Broadcasting Policy that requires all television and radio stations to obtain a license from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). The policy includes a number of vague and broad restrictions on content, including prohibiting broadcasts that “harm public interest” or are “contrary to law and order.” In 2017, the BTRC issued a directive banning all “unethical” programming, which was widely interpreted as an attempt to censor content critical of the government.
These restrictive measures have had a chilling effect on freedom of speech and press in Bangladesh. Journalists self-censor their reporting out of fear of retribution from the government. Online platforms such as Facebook and YouTube have also been censored, with popular pages being removed or blocked without explanation. In 2018, Reporters Without Borders ranked Bangladesh 146th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index.
The role of the media in promoting or restricting freedom of speech, expression and press
In Bangladesh, the role of the media in promoting or restricting freedom of speech, expression and press is significant. The media is a key player in shaping public opinion and creating awareness on various issues. It can be a powerful tool for positive change, but it can also be used to silence dissent and ignore important issues.
The government has a history of using media censorship to control the flow of information and limit freedom of expression. In recent years, there have been increasing restrictions on the media, including attacks on journalists, shutdowns of news outlets, and bans on certain topics. These restrictions have had a chilling effect on freedom of speech and press in Bangladesh.
Despite the challenges, there are also some signs of progress. In 2018, the government lifted a longstanding ban on broadcasting by foreign news outlets. And in 2019, Bangladesh’s parliament passed a new law that protects journalists from being sued for defamation.
It is clear that the media plays an important role in Bangladesh’s struggle for democracy and human rights. The challenge now is to ensure that the media is free to operate without fear of retaliation or censorship.
The role of civil society in promoting or restricting freedom of speech, expression and press
In Bangladesh, civil society organizations have long played an important role in the promotion and protection of freedom of expression. These organizations have been at the forefront of campaigning for the repeal of repressive laws, such as the now-defunct Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act, which criminalized online expression. They have also been instrumental in providing legal aid to journalists and others who have been harassed or prosecuted for their work.
Despite the important role that civil society organizations have played in promoting freedom of expression, there have also been instances where they have acted to restrict this right. For example, in 2015, a number of civil society organizations campaigned for the ban of a book by Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin on the grounds that it was blasphemous. In 2018, some civil society organizations also supported the government’s decision to banishwhich has often been critical of the government.
Conclusion: the future of freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh
The future of freedom of speech, expression and press in Bangladesh is likely to be determined by a number of factors. The most important of these is the continued commitment of the government to democracy and human rights. If the current trend towards authoritarianism continues, it is likely that freedom of speech, expression and press will be increasingly restricted. However, if the government remains committed to democratic ideals, there is a good chance that these rights will be respected. Another important factor is the role of the media in Bangladesh. If the media can continue to play a vital role in holding the government accountable, it is likely that freedom of speech, expression and press will be protected.