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Amnesty International Accuses Bangladesh Govt of 'Stifling' Free Speech
A man holds up the national flag as protesters block a street before they try to surround and block access to the High Commission of Pakistan in Dhaka December 18, 2013. (Only for representational purpose)
New Delhi: The Amnesty International on Tuesday accused the Bangladesh government of "stifling" free speech and "silencing" the critical voices in the media, invoking colonial-era sedition laws.
The human rights body released a report -- Caught between fear and repression: Attacks on freedom of expression in Bangladesh -- detailing a series of recent attacks on secular bloggers, atheists and journalists by fundamentalists in the neighbouring country.
"Between the violence of armed groups and government's repression, the secular voices in Bangladesh are consistently being silenced. Not only is the government failing to protect freedom of expression, it is blaming the people for the threats they face and criminalising the works of bloggers and journalists through a slew of repressive laws," said Amnesty International's Bangladesh researcher Olof Blomqvist.
Asked why the report was being released in Delhi instead of Dhaka, he said the Amnesty International wanted to highlight the "regional nature" of threats to freedom of expression, adding that it had documented similar issues and restrictions in India, Pakistan and Maldives as well.
"We have also organised a press conference in London for the Bangladeshi journalists based there.
"The Bangladesh government treats journalism as if it is a crime. Through imprisonment, threats, intimidation and constant interference in their work, the Bangladesh government has done all it can to silence the critical voices in the media," said Blomqvist.
Speaking on what should India's role be in the matter, Aakar Patel, Executive Director of Amnesty International India, said, "India can offer refuge to those who leave Bangladesh due to these incidents. It should not only accept refugees of a particular faith. The policy should be based on threat perception of individuals."
He said India should be in regular touch with the governments of all the neighbouring countries going through a turmoil, including Bangladesh, and put pressure on them to initiate action against the perpetrators of such attacks.
"India should be the torch-bearer as regards freedom of expression. We have gone wrong on the issue of sedition. If we come up with a clear policy regarding freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Constitution, it will help the neighbouring countries in the long run," said Patel.
The Amnesty International report comes in the backdrop of brutal attacks on bloggers and publishers, including the lynching of writers Ahmed Rajib Haider and Avijit Roy, in Bangladesh in recent years.
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