In Bangladesh, TrialWatch is monitoring the misuse of the Digital Security Act (DSA), which is being used to suppress dissent and stifle press freedom. The DSA criminalizes a broad range of online speech offences with maximum sentences for these offences ranging between five years, ten years and life imprisonment respectively. Amnesty International reported that as of July 2021, there are 433 individuals currently imprisoned under the DSA.
Photojournalist and newspaper editor Shafiqul Islam Kajol faces charges under the DSA in three separate cases after sharing an article on social media about an alleged sex scandal involving Bangladeshi politicians affiliated with the ruling party. Despite the UN Human Rights Committee explaining that “imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty” for defamation, Mr. Islam was held in pre-trial detention for eight month and could receive up to 13 years’ imprisonment if convicted.
Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore has been accused of being an administrator of a Facebook page called “I am Bangladeshi” that shared news articles and political cartoons about the COVID-19 pandemic. He has been charged under the DSA and faces up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Like Mr. Islam, Mr. Kishore was held in pre-trial detention for 10 months, and he has alleged he was tortured by authorities while in custody.
Investigative journalist Rozina Islam, who previously exposed government corruption and reported on the government’s poor management of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been charged with collecting and taking photos of confidential documents from the Ministry of Health. In particular, one of the charges against her is possession of confidential information obtained in contravention of the Official Secrets Act, which carries a potential death sentence.