Human Rights Watch on Friday claimed that the Bangladesh government has embarked upon intensive and intrusive surveillance and monitoring of social media ahead of national elections, raising concern over a chilling effect on speech.
The New York-based international rights body made the claim in a statement published on its official website on Friday.
In the statement, HRW claimed, “Draconian new laws and policies are being used to target political opponents, journalists, internet commentators, and broadcasters.”
HRW said, “National elections are due in Bangladesh by January 2019. Opposition parties and independent observers fear that the increasing crackdown on privacy and free expression is an attempt to limit speech and criticism of the government in the election period. The government claims these efforts are to stem harmful rumors, false information, or objectionable content to maintain law and order.”
“Bangladesh is using claims about public security to silence opponents and critics,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government’s surveillance practices are violating the rights to privacy and freedom of expression ahead of the elections.”
It also said, “Bangladesh has 28 million Facebook users. Since social media emerged as a key tool to express dissent and organize protests, the authorities have monitored various platforms and internet-based communication. This has already led to arrests for using social media to criticize the government.”
It mentioned, “Bangladesh is obliged under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect its citizens from arbitrary arrest (article 9), from arbitrary or unlawful interference with their privacy and correspondence (article 17), and their freedom of expression (article 19).”
HRW said, “Any interference with the rights to privacy and free expression should be based on clear law, for a legitimate reason, and be proportionate – that is, the minimal interference necessary. Peaceful criticism of the government and state authorities should always be permitted.”
HRW alleged that recent policies directing security agencies to monitor social media and prosecute users who offend the government, as well as the draconian provisions of the new Digital Security Act, violate those rights.
Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, claimed, “There is a chilling atmosphere for journalism and free speech in Bangladesh right now, with even those sharing innocuous social media posts at risk of arrest and harassment.”
“The government should immediately end this assault on fundamental political rights, and instead create an environment conducive to ensuring that Bangladeshis are able to elect their leaders without fear,” Adams suggested.