Stop intimidating the media, release journalist Shams : TIB
Dhaka, 30 March 2023: The detention of journalist Samsuzzaman Shams and his presentation in the court after long 30 hours as well as the filing of a case against him under the Digital Security Act, is a violation of the constitutional right to security of life of any citizen and the constitutional obligation of free media. It sets a dangerous precedent of controlling and intimidating the media, said Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) in a press statement of deep concern that also strongly condemned the incident. The organization demanded the unconditional release of Shams and immediate repeal of the draconian Digital Security Act to uphold democratic principles.
Shams was produced to court 30 hours following his visibly illegal detention and was claimed as “missing” in the meantime, which violates the time limit stipulated by the law to produce an accused in court even if detained lawfully. Terming this as disgraceful and highly disturbing, TIB Executive Director Dr. Iftekharuzzaman criticized the law enforcement agencies for unlawfully abducting the journalist and failing to produce him in court within the stipulated time frame.
The TIB ED also pointed out that grievances for alleged mistakes or discrepancies in media reporting can be redressed under the Press Council Act. “When the Press Council Act is disregarded to first abduct a journalist and then shown arrested on non-bailable charges under the Digital Security Act, it clearly represents an agenda to intimidate and suppress the media or anyone exercising the right to dissent and freedom of opinion”, he said.
As per media reports, the case against Shams was filed under sections 25(2), 31, and 35 of the Digital Security Act, of which section 31 is a non-bailable offence. Dr. Iftekharuzzaman stated that there are credible evidences that these sections of the Digital Security Act are being misused as weapons to silence dissent and intimidate anyone with a different opinion, especially journalists. “In the past few of days, two more journalists were subjected to violence and intimidation under the Digital Security Act. TIB has expressed its objections to this draconian law since its drafting stage and on numerous subsequent occasions of its abuse. Even the incumbent Law Minister recognized that the law was being abused and promised its amendment. However, media personnel and critics continue to face persecution and violation of fundamental rights by targeted abuse of this law.”
TIB also cited the World Press Freedom Index 2022, where Bangladesh ranked 162nd out of 180 countries, lower even than Taliban-controlled Afghanistan (156th). TIB deems the misuse of the Digital Security Act as a key factor responsible for this poor ranking and called for early repeal of the Act, immediate and unconditional release of journalist Shams and cancellation of the case against him and others including the editor of the relevant newspaper.