Bangladeshi Government Decides There's No Time Like The Present To Censor/Arrest More Journalists

from the seize-the-means-of-criticism dept

We can’t have nice things. We can’t even have mediocre things. And, in the midst of a global pandemic, we can’t even have basic things. The Bangladesh government hasn’t exactly discovered the power of censorship. The government and this power are already acquainted. But with a novel virus in the air, the government has discovered it can silence speech more effectively.

At least 20 journalists in Bangladesh have been charged or arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) in the past month, raising concerns about free speech in the South Asian nation.

A number of journalists have been arrested for social media posts critical of the government or reporting on the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

This isn’t the only government handling the pandemic poorly. The response to the growing pandemic has ranged from bad to awful to well-we’re-done-reporting-stats around the world. But governments should welcome criticism. It keeps them honest. But world governments hate honesty. It shows they’re not prepared to handle nationwide outages. Unemployment rises. Markets fall. And governments… well, they censor.

At least one Bangladeshi journalist has already been “disappeared” by the government. Other journalists remain, but they’re overseen by a vindictive government that won’t take “this won’t do” for an answer. The government wants to hold those least responsible for the government’s failure responsible for the government’s failure. Cue the arrests and the attendant silencing.

Nearly 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the DSA this year until May 6, according to a study by Article 19, a UK-based human rights body.

Any charge will do. The disappeared journalist, Safiqul Islam Kajol, faces criminal defamation charges from the same government that whisked the reporter into nonexistence. Criminal defamation laws remain on the books solely for the purpose of allowing governments and their employees to harass and silence those who would speak out about their abuses.

In addition to the mysterious defamation charges, this same journalist faces “trespassing” charges for reappearing at the country’s border. Whatever it takes to pressure someone into a plea deal where they agree they’re guilty of being (1) existent and (2) critical of the government.

Make no mistake. The coronavirus is a crisis. And it’s an opportunity. Governments that think their constituents should be subjected to more surveillance are arguing this justifies that expansion of power. A worldwide patchwork of cybercrime/libel/fake news laws ensures this will happen, starting with prominent journalists and ending with internet nobodies who happen to question their government’s actions. The end result will be a wave of censorship — both self- and government-ordained.

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Comments on “Bangladeshi Government Decides There's No Time Like The Present To Censor/Arrest More Journalists”

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Upstream (profile) says:

When the corona virus first started becoming a pandemic, rather than a short-term, regionally isolated disaster, it quickly became clear that there would be long-lasting effects and repercussions. While some people tried valiantly to foresee at least some positive results, many agreed that most of the lasting consequences would be negative. As the pandemic has progressed, it has become harder to see much good coming of it, and easier to see more of the seriously bad long-term effects. Add to this the other current events that Tim Cushing has written so powerfully about, and the not-so-short term future looks increasingly grim.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

More a sad reality of "do the minimium to hold power" and "delay reforms and upgrades until a crisis" would still be an improvement. That we might see more healthcare spending on even the lowliest because unlike other life threatening conditions Coronavirus is contagious and even the selfish could see "keeping the populace healthy" as important to protect themselves as well or more digital infastructure to boost at home employment and accessibility of schools when possible.

Not quite broken window is a net gain but "the window was cracked since Eisenhower already and maybe they’ll get around to fixing it".

Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That is kind of what I thought, too. But some of the wishful thinking about possible positives included increased preparedness for the next pandemic (and there will be another, it’s not "if" but "when"), broader recognition of, and maybe corrections of, deficiencies in the existing health care system, maybe more long-term, JIC (Just In Case) thinking rather than exclusively short term, bottom-line, JIT (Just In Time) thinking etc. These might be some actual positives. To use the broken window analogy, these might be like deciding to play baseball in the park instead of next to the house, or maybe closing the shutters or using a whiffle ball if you must play near the house, as opposed to the fallacious "more work for the glazier helps the economy" stuff. I doubt much of these types of things will happen, and even if they do, I think they will likely be be short-lived, token efforts.

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