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Bangladesh using controversial law to ‘gag media, free speech’ |NationalTribune.com

Dhaka, Bangladesh – At least 20 journalists in Bangladesh have been charged or arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) in the past month, raising concerns about free speech in the South Asian nation. A number of journalists have been arrested for social media posts critical of the government or reporting on the government’s…

Bangladesh using controversial law to ‘gag media, free speech’ |NationalTribune.com

Dhaka, Bangladesh – At least 20 journalists in Bangladesh have been charged or arrested under the controversial Digital Security Act (DSA) in the past month, raising concerns about free speech in the South Asian nation.
A number of journalists have been arrested for social media posts critical of the government or reporting on the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Nearly 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the DSA this year until May 6, according to a study by Article 19, a UK-based human rights body.
Senior journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol disappeared on March 10, a day after a politician from the governing Awami League party filed a criminal defamation case against him for publishing “false, offensive, illegally obtained and defamatory” content on Facebook.
A governing party legislator, Saifuzzaman Shikor, filed a defamation case against Kajol, a photographer and editor of the biweekly Pakkhakal magazine, and 31 others, accusing them of linking him to escort services run from a hotel.
Kajol mysteriously turned up in police custody 53 days later on India-Bangladesh border.

Monorom Polok, Kajol’s son, has pleaded for his father’s release [STR/AFP]

He has been slapped with three cases under the DSA, a law rights bodies have described as “draconian”. Police have registered a fourth case against Kajol for “trespassing” into his own country. 
If punished, he faces seven years in jail.
Another top editor, Motiur Rahman Chowdhury, was also charged in the same case.
‘A prisoner of conscience’
Amnesty International said Kajol was detained for exercising his right to freedom of expression. “Shafiqul Islam Kajol is a prisoner of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” the rights body said in a statement released on May 6.
Monorom Polok, Kajol’s son, has pleaded for his father’s release. “My father still hasn’t got the chance to appeal in front of a court as the courts are now shut due to COVID -19 lockdown,” Polok told Al Jazeera.
“Out of humanity and out of kindness, we appeal to our government to consider my father’s pr-existing health conditions and his mental state and immediately release him and drop all charges against him,” he said.
Journalists filing reports critical of the government’s measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus also seemed to have been targeted.
On May 6, at least 11 people, including a cartoonist, two journalists, and a writer, were charged with “spreading rumors and carrying out anti-government activities”.
Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil, US-based journalist Shahed Alam and blogger Asif Mohiuddin also have cases against them under DSA.
On the same day, Didarul Islam Bhuiyan, a member of a politico-civic organization, Rashtrachinta, was arrested for a Facebook post.
“My husband was not involved in any criminal acts, but he was picked up by plain-clothes people who identified themselves as members of Rapid Action Battalion (RAB),” Dilshan Ara, wife of Bhuiyan, told Al Jazeera.
“He is innocent, who merely posted some write-ups on social media criticising the corruption in the relief distribution process; we all have that right to expression under the constitution.
“We want his immediate release, he may get exposed to coronavirus inside the jail.”
Police defend action
Police officials have defended the cases against journalists.
Masudur Rahman, Dhaka Metro Police deputy commissioner media, told Al Jazeera that cases filed on May 6 against 11 people, including journalists, and Bhuiyan were filed by paramilitary RAB for social media postings.
He affirmed that the police would investigate the matter in accordance with the law. “However, it will be up to the court to decide their fate in the end. All of them have been sent to Keranigonj central jail, pending a court hearing,” Rahman told Al Jazeera.
Rights activists have expressed grave concern over the rising number of cases being filed against journalists and critics of the government. They say the DSA law is being used to “gag media and freedom of expression”.
“We are alarmed by nature and procedure followed by authorities to prosecute people in some of the cases under The Digital Security Act (DSA),” Saad Hammadi, South Asia campaigner for Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera.
“When a police official’s justification for taking a DSA case against someone is based on only the fact that a ruling party leader is aggrieved as opposed to determining the necessity and proportion of the actions, it severely compromises the country’s commitment to promote and protect people’s right to freedom of expression,” he said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Bangladesh to urgently revise the DSA to ensure that it is in line with international human rights laws.
Rising cases against journalists
More than 1,000 cases have been filed in Bangladesh under the DSA since it was implemented in 2018.
In the last two months, journalists have become more vulnerable, with many media outlets announcing lay-offs due to COVID-19 pandemic that has infected 25,121 and killed 370 people in the country of 160 million.
A group of eminent citizens and journalists unions have called for the release of jailed media workers.
“Digital Security Act can be useful against those who commit cybercrimes, but it should not be used against journalists and media persons,” Farida Yeasmin, general secretary of the Bangladesh National Press Club, told Al Jazeera.
The Bangladesh Editors’ Council (Sampadak Parishad) has also expressed grave concern over the recent cases against journalists.
“No concern is being shown over the merit of the complaints before making arrests,” the Editors’ Council said in a statement.
Last month, Reporters Without Borders published a report that at least nine journalists had been physically attacked and six face charges under the DSA for collecting or publishing news on misappropriation of relief materials.
The Paris-based media watchdog ranks Bangladesh 150 out of 180 countries in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, a four-point drop from its 2018 ranking.
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Bangladesh

Many killed in Bangladesh mosque gas pipeline blast |NationalTribune.com

Relatives of a suspected gas explosion victim mourn in a hospital in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP] A gas pipeline explosion near a mosque in Bangladesh killed 13 people and injured 30 as worshippers were about to end their prayers, officials said on Saturday. The explosion, which fire service officials suspect was caused by leakage from…

Many killed in Bangladesh mosque gas pipeline blast |NationalTribune.com

Relatives of a suspected gas explosion victim mourn in a hospital in Dhaka [Munir Uz Zaman/AFP]
A gas pipeline explosion near a mosque in Bangladesh killed 13 people and injured 30 as worshippers were about to end their prayers, officials said on Saturday.
The explosion, which fire service officials suspect was caused by leakage from the pipeline, occurred on Friday night at a mosque in Narayanganj district, just outside the capital, Dhaka.
Dozens were rushed to Dhaka’s state-run specialised burn and plastic-surgery hospital, most of them with severe burns.
Thirteen people, including a seven-year-old child, died after they sustained burns, said Samanta Lal Sen, coordinator of the burns unit.
The death toll could rise further as many of them were in a critical condition, he said.
Fire officials said gas that accumulated in the mosque after pipeline leaks likely triggered the blasts.
“We primarily suspect that gas leaked from the pipeline and accumulated inside the mosque since the windows were shut. When the air conditioners was turned on, due to sparks the gas could have exploded,” said Abdullah Al Arefin, a senior fire service official.
All six air conditioners in the mosque exploded during the incident, he said.
Authorities have launched an investigation into the blast.
In Bangladesh, safety regulations are often flouted in construction. Hundreds are killed each year in fires in the nation of 168 million people.
In February last year, an inferno in Dhaka’s old quarters killed 78 people. One month later, 25 people were killed when a blaze engulfed an office building in the city.

Bangladesh: Office building fire kills 25 people in Dhaka

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Bangladesh, India brace for Amphan

India and Bangladesh evacuated millions of people from the path of the most powerful storm in 20 years, which is expected to hit on Wednesday evening and has raised fears of extensive damage to houses and crops. The authorities’ move to save lives was complicated by continuing efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic and enforce…

Bangladesh, India brace for Amphan

India and Bangladesh evacuated millions of people from the path of the most powerful storm in 20 years, which is expected to hit on Wednesday evening and has raised fears of extensive damage to houses and crops.
The authorities’ move to save lives was complicated by continuing efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic and enforce social distancing.
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Cyclone Fani: Nearly 800,000 evacuated in India before storm

Approaching from the Bay of Bengal, super cyclone Amphan was expected to hit the coast of eastern India and southern Bangladesh with winds gusting up to 185 kilometres per hour (115 miles per hour) – the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane.
Al Jazeera’s Tanvir Chowdhury, reporting from Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, said the cyclone was expected to land on South Asian nation’s southeastern coastal belt at around 6pm local time.
He said 1.4 million people have been evacuated and put into shelter but at least 46,000 people remained in the clear line of danger on some of the islands in the coastal areas.
“There is accommodation for at least five million people and there is medical team, rescue operation team, coastguard and the navy have been put on alert and standby in the coastal areas,” he said. 
“This would be one of the biggest cyclones so they are taking it very seriously.”

The Indian weather department forecast a storm surge of 10- to 16-foot (3-4 metre) waves – as high as a two-storey house – that could swamp mud dwellings along the coast, uproot communication towers and inundate roads and railway tracks.
There will be extensive damage to standing crops and plantations in the states of West Bengal and Odisha, the weather service said in a bulletin late on Tuesday.
Authorities were hastily repurposing quarantine facilities for the looming cyclone soon after easing the world’s biggest lockdown against the coronavirus. India has reported more than 100,000 cases with 3,163 deaths.
About 300,000 people had been moved to storm shelters, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said. The state capital Kolkata lies near the cyclone’s path and there was concern about people living in about 1,500 old, dilapidated buildings.
Kolkata was battered by heavy rain and the muddy Hooghly river was rising under dark skies, while in the coastal resort of Digha, large waves were pounding the shore.

A Cyclone Preparedness Programme (CPP) volunteer uses a megaphone to urge residents to evacuate to shelters ahead of the expected landfall of cyclone Amphan in Khulna, Bangladesh on Tuesday [Kazi Shanto/ AFP]

Rohingya refugees vulnerable
In neighbouring Bangladesh, officials said the cyclone could set off tidal waves and heavy rainfall, unleashing floods.
It was expected to hit land between the districts of Chittagong and Khulna, just 150 km (93 miles) from refugee camps housing more than a million Rohingya in flimsy shelters.
The UN said food, tarpaulins and water purification tablets had been stockpiled, while authorities said the refugees would be moved to sturdier buildings if needed.
“We are fully prepared. But right now, there is no need to take them to cyclone shelters,” said Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee commissioner.
Authorities in Bangladesh have also moved hundreds of Rohingya refugees living on a flood-prone island in the Bay of Bengal to storm shelters as the super cyclone barrels down.
The eastern edge of the storm headed for Bangladesh and neighbouring India is expected to batter Bhasan Char island, where 306 Rohingya, members of a persecuted minority from Myanmar, were sent this month after being rescued from boats.
“Each block has a cyclone centre and they have been moved to the centre,” said Bimal Chakma, a senior official of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission.
The United Nations has called for the refugees to be moved to the mainland to join more than a million more who live in sprawling camps outside the town of Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh’s low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, and India’s east are regularly battered by cyclones that have claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in recent decades. The eastern Indian state of Odisha was hit by a super cyclone that left nearly 10,000 dead in 1999, eight years after a typhoon, tornadoes and flooding killed 139,000 in Bangladesh. In 1970, Cyclone Bhola killed half a million.
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Bangladesh rescues hundreds of starving Rohingya adrift at sea

At least 24 Rohingya died at sea after their boat failed to reach Malaysia, the coastguard in Bangladesh said on Thursday after rescuring 396 Rohingya people from the vessel which had been adrift for weeks after failing to reach Malaysia. “They were at sea for about two months and were starving,” an official from the…

Bangladesh rescues hundreds of starving Rohingya adrift at sea

At least 24 Rohingya died at sea after their boat failed to reach Malaysia, the coastguard in Bangladesh said on Thursday after rescuring 396 Rohingya people from the vessel which had been adrift for weeks after failing to reach Malaysia.
“They were at sea for about two months and were starving,” an official from the coastguard told Reuters news agency.
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The official said a “final decision” had been made to send those rescued to neighbouring Myanmar. The coastguard initially said 382 had been rescued but later revised the number higher.
Video images showed a crowd of mostly women and children, some stick-thin and barely able to stand, being helped to shore. One refugee told a reporter that the group had been turned back from Malaysia three times and at one point there was a fight on board between the passengers and the crew.
Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya as citizens, and they face severe curbs on their movement as well as access to jobs, healthcare and education.

A boatload of hundreds of emaciated #Rohingya drifted ashore in #Bangladesh after a failed attempt to flee to #Malaysia. 28 reportedly died while adrift. Until justice, rights, & livelihoods improve, many will continue to risk their lives at sea & these horrors will continue… https://t.co/jsPVNmyDpp
— Matthew Smith (@matthewfsmith) April 15, 2020

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled the country in 2017 following a brutal army crackdown, and violence continues in the western state of Rakhine where some remain in squalid camps. Those forced into Bangladesh live in sprawling refugee camps near the border with Myanmar, which is under investigation at the International Court of Justice for genocide against the ethnic group.
Myanmar denies persecuting the Rohingya and says they are not an indigenous group despite having lived in the country for centuries.
A human rights group said it believed more boats carrying Rohingya were still at sea, because of coronavirus lockdowns in Thailand and Malaysia, a popular destination for the mainly Muslim Rohingya despite the country not being a signatory to the UN refugee convention.
“Rohingya may encounter closed borders supported by a xenophobic public narrative,” Arakan Project Director Chris Lewa said. 
On April 5, Malaysian authorities intercepted a boat found drifting off the coast of the northwestern island of Langkawi and detained more than 200 Rohingya, including children, who were found on board.
In February, at least 15 Rohingya who had been living in the refugee camps in Teknaf died after their boat capsized in the Bay of Bengal. Reports said they had also been trying to get to Malaysia.
A police official in Malaysia’s northern state of Kedah told Reuters that several boats were trying to reach Malaysia and that monitoring had been stepped up. In southern Thailand, a police official said that five boats had been seen off the coast of Satun late on Monday. It was not possible to independently confirm the comments.
Rohingya have for years boarded smugglers’ boats to get to Southeast Asia, usually during the November to March dry season when the sea is calmer. 

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