The Global Voices community, comprised of bloggers, writers, and activists from more than 100 countries, wish to express our concern about the current state of freedom of expression online in Bangladesh.
On Monday, April 1, the Detective Branch of the Bangladesh Police detained three bloggers in Dhaka: Rasel Parvez, Mashiur Rahman Biplob and Subrata Adhikari Shuvo. On Wednesday police detained Asif Mohiuddin, another blogger and the Home Minister revealed that seven more bloggers were to be arrested in the coming days. These men have been accused of demeaning Islam and the Prophet Muhammad on their blogs. Days prior to these detentions, various fundamentalist groups issued threats to bloggers and Facebook users who made derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammad; several blogs have been blocked by authorities for similar reasons. On March 31, representatives of conservative Muslim clerics submitted a list of 84 bloggers to a committee formed by the Home Ministry, accusing the bloggers of atheism and writing against Islam.
Global Voices wishes to condemn these acts and reminds the government of Bangladesh of its commitments to free expression online:
Article 39 (1, 2) of Chapter-3 of Bangladesh’s constitution [PDF] guarantees “freedom of thought and conscience, and of speech,” allowing only for “reasonable restrictions imposed by law.” Bangladesh is a non-religious parliamentary democracy; if a person claims to be an atheist, he or she has the same rights as other citizens.
In 2000, Bangladesh ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, thereby further asserting its commitment to free expression under Article 19 of the Covenant, which guarantees all people the right to “hold opinions without interference” and to the right to freedom of expression. It notes that this right shall include “freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers…”
We believe that there is a fine line between satire, criticism, and insulting religion. The detained bloggers should be entitled to proper legal counsel to defend their position.
Our community believes that the free expression rights of the detained bloggers are being unjustly violated. Furthermore, as it is widely held that the right to free expression cannot be protected if individuals do not feel free to express themselves without fear of retribution, we worry that the rights of those who have been blacklisted are also under threat, as they must certainly fear retribution for their ideas at this point in time.
Global Voices is deeply concerned about these escalating threats to free expression in Bangladesh. We call for the immediate release of the detained bloggers and urge government actors to uphold their commitments to national law and international human rights doctrine.