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How The Draconian ‘Digital Security Act’ Of Bangladesh Is Muzzling Press Freedom, Secular Voices?

At the heart of the attack against activists, bloggers and journalists is the Digital Security Act which came into effect in 2018 in Bangladesh.

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With the Digital Security Act in Bangladesh, journalists, bloggers, critics and even doctors are under fire as the Dhaka continues to muzzle freedom of expression. EurAsian Times analyses the Digital Security Act implemented by the Bangladesh government. 

While the Bangladeshi Constitution under Article 39 safeguards freedom of expression and speech and freedom of the press, the current government with its Digital Security Act does little to uphold it.

The South Asian nation is reeling from the coronavirus, however, this has not stopped Bangladesh from going after journalists who are unearthing stories about the government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

At least 20 journalists have been charged or arrested by Bangladesh in the last one month. Action against the media persons has been taken under the controversial and draconian Digital Security Act (DSA). According to reports from Bangladesh, arrests are based on social media posts critical of the government and its dealing of the coronavirus pandemic.

Digital Security Act

At the heart of the attack against activists, bloggers and journalists is the Digital Security Act which came into effect in 2018. The government introduced it as an improvement on the Information Technology Act under which nearly 1200 people were arrested.

However, Amnesty International has labelled the Digital Security Act even more repressive than the IT Act and claims that vague and overly broad provisions of the DSA could be used to intimidate and imprison journalists and social media users, silence critics and carry out invasive forms of monitoring.

In a nutshell, the Digital Security Act of Bangladesh gives police the power to arrest journalists and confiscate their equipment without a court order, carry out searches without a warrant, ask service providers and other intermediaries for data without requiring a court-obtained warrant or subpoena and places a 60-day window on the investigation.

The Bangladeshi government claims that the law is enacted to prevent cybercrime and not to control the role of the media but the reality on the ground says otherwise.

Nearly 60 cases have been filed against more than 100 people, including 22 journalists, under the Digital Security Act this year until May 6, according to a study by Article 19, a UK-based human rights body.

The Dhaka Tribune reports that it is not just voices journalists that are being muzzled. Medical professionals are barred from speaking to the media, the government is keeping a tab on social media and government officials have been directed not to share, like or comment on any social media post that is critical of the government.

Government cronies have not been shy in displaying their brutal tactics as physical attacks against journalists have surged too. According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, 15 journalists have been attacked in the last few weeks for their coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

German Broadcaster Deutsche Welle covered the plight of Sajal Bhuiyan, a journalist based in Narsingdi district. Bhuiyan was beaten up for reporting on misappropriation of food grains and was prevented from being taken to a hospital by his attackers.

Although he wants to see the attackers behind bars, the culprits backed by the Awami League are likely to escape unscathed.

Dhaka has made sure that even journalists based out of Bangladesh are not spared. A Swedish-Bangladeshi journalist Tasneem Khalil and US-based journalist Shahid Alam have been charged with under the Digital Security Act.

Khalil claims that three officers of the intelligence wing have questioned his mother about his reporting. He says that it was an attempt to intimidate him and dissuade from being critical of the government in his reporting.

The case of senior journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol is perhaps in the most chilling example of misuse of the state power. Kajol disappeared on March 10 after a defamation case was filed against him by a politician from the Awami League.

It would be 53 days before Kajol was seen again. He reappeared on May 8, near the border with India and now faces up to 7 years in prison for posting “false, offensive, illegally obtained and defamatory” content on Facebook and for trespassing into his own country.

Police Defends Actions

Police officials in the country have defended their actions and say that investigation would go in accordance with the law. Masudur Rahman, Dhaka Metro Police deputy commissioner media, spoke to Al Jazeera, confirmed that the arrests were made by the Rapid Action Battalion for various social media posts and that the fate of the journalists remains with the courts.

More than 1,000 cases have been filed in Bangladesh under the Digital Security Act since it was implemented in 2018. On May 6, at least 11 people, including a cartoonist, two journalists, and a writer, were charged with “spreading rumours and carrying out anti-government activities.”

Bangladesh National Press Club (BNPC) and  Bangladesh Editors’ Council (BEC) have voiced their concerns over the arrests of journalists and activists for exercising their freedom of speech.

General secretary of the BNPC, Farida Yeasmin, said that the Digital Security Act should only be used for handling cyber crimes and not for detaining and targeting media persons. The BEC also issued a statement and said that no concern is being shown over the merit of the complaints before making arrests.

Bangladeshi human rights monitor Odhikar claims that the Digital Security Act is mostly being used by businessmen and politicians for targeting critics. Statistics from Odhikar, a Bangladeshi Human Rights monitor, shows that 550 people have disappeared in the country since the Awami League government was sworn in 11 years ago.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called on Bangladesh to urgently revise the Digital Security Act to ensure that it complies with international human rights laws.

Press Freedom is relatively poor in South Asia. India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal are all ranked above 100 while Bhutan and Maldives are the only two countries ranked below 100 in the Press Freedom Index.

The latest Press Freedom Index Reports by RSF ranks Bangladesh at 151 out of 180 countries. It has the lowest ranking compared to neighbours India and Myanmar who rank 139 and 142 respectively. In fact, since 2013 the press freedom ranking for Bangladesh has been consistently poor and in 2020 it was the lowest in the last 7 years.

OpEd By : Armaan Srivastava. Views Personel
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Expert Reviews

Rafale jets dodge all radars, air defence systems; bombs Turkish facilities in Libya

The Dassault Rafale is a French multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Rafale is intended to perform air supremacy, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike and nuclear deterrence missions.

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Recently, the al-Watiya airbase in Libya was reportedly bombed by Rafale jets, which either belonged to France or Egypt, the two nations within the range of the base that possesses these (Rafale) aircraft, writes the Arab Weekly.  

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The report quoting its sources called the attack by Rafale jets as a response to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar’s visit to Libya.

The Turkish presence in Libya is highly undesirable to both Egypt and France and the former has even warned to intervene militarily in Libya if the Turkish-backed militias tried to head towards Sirte. France has also called the Turkish moves as “unacceptable,” emphasising that it would not permit this to continue.

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But this recent airstrike on al-Watiya airbase reportedly by 4++ generation Rafale jets displayed that the boundaries in airspace differ from the boundaries on land drawn by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Indeed, basing fighter jets and drones in al-Watiya pose a direct threat to any military deployed in the region.

Sisi has discussed the possibility of directly intervening in Libya, pointing out that Egypt “will not allow the conflict in Libya to cross the Sirte line.” He also emphasised that “with regard to Egypt’s security, al-Jufra is a red line that we will not allow any force to cross.”

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The Tripoli government accused “a foreign air force” of bombing al-Watiya base, without furnishing any information on the identity of the aircraft or the targets attacked. Even though Turkish and Qatari media rejected any casualties, the Libyan source, however, claimed that many Turkish soldiers were injured or dead in the airstrikes by Rafale jets.

A retired Libyan army officer revealed to Arab Weekly that a squadron of fighter planes launched a series of airstrikes on al-Watiya base, where Turkey had deployed F-16 aircraft, Bayraktar TB2 and Anka-S drones, backed by a MIM-23 Hawk air defence system with its radars.

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He further said that the air raids targeted the al-Nadab quarters at al-Watiya base, which the Turkish forces on the base had used as their headquarters since last May. Also targeted were Sungur air defence systems, fixed and mobile radar installations and Koral signal jamming system, which the Ankara had deployed at al-Watiya base.

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Libyan parliament member Ibrahim al-Darsi later acknowledged and “the airstrikes were launched by forces all too well-known to us,” and added that the targets of these attacks were “a clear message and constituted a strong and painful slap in the face of Turkish President Erdogan and his proxies in Libya, especially the militia government headed by Fayez al-Sarraj.”

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Jemai Guesmi

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Asia Pacific

India can ‘no longer’ choke China at the Strait Of Malacca as Beijing finds solution

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India. 

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Could the advantage that India enjoys over China due to the Strait of Malacca be coming to an end? Does China have a way to tackle the Indian plans of chocking Beijing at the Malacca Straits – the strategic waterway, in case of a war?

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India’s position at the mouth of the Malacca Strait has created panic amongst Chinese officials as they try to find an alternative route, writes the Forbes.

The Strait of Malacca is a strategic waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia through which the majority of Chinese imports pass. The narrow waterway also makes the perfect chokepoint from the perspective of India, and should tension between Beijing and New Delhi rise, the Malacca Strait can be blocked easily by India.

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India’s natural position in the Indian Ocean, with basing capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the strait, would allow its navy to cut it off in the event of a crisis or war with China.

Keeping in mind the recent flare-up between India and China, Larry Bond, renowned naval author and creator of the Harpoon war game series, says that if India wanted to block trade with China, all it has to do is its park ships at the mouth of the Malacca Strait.

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The vast majority of China’s oil imports, from the Persian Gulf, Venezuela and Angola, pass by this route. Due to the strategic importance of the waterway, there is fear amongst Chinese officials that India could block the Malacca Strait in case of war.

Experts at EurAsian Times believe that the strategic importance of the Malacca Strait and the advantage it gives to India will likely reduce over time as Beijing find alternative routes.

Bypassing the Malacca Strait

The fact India enjoys a strategic advantage over China because of the Malacca Strait has forced Beijing to explore other options and find ways around the waterway.

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One such option is Gwadar Port in Pakistan. As part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Beijing has developed the port in Gwadar so that goods unloaded there will be shipped overland to China.

On June 8 the Pakistani government approved a $7.2bn upgrade to a railway which will connect Gwadar to Kashgar, China. The port is not yet operating at capacity, but the direction seems clear.

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While Gwadar is still susceptible to an attack by the Indian Air Force (IAF), it adds political and military risks as it is in a third country’s territory. The Indian Navy could try and block this port but it would require ships to move away from the Malacca Strait.

The other option Beijing is exploring is Northern Sea Route in the Arctic which could create a ‘Polar Silk Road.’ The importance of this is underlined by China’s 2018 Arctic policy. It asserts, “Geographically, China is a “Near-Arctic State”, one of the continental States that are closest to the Arctic Circle.”

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The policy statement goes on to say, “China hopes to work with all parties to build a “Polar Silk Road” through developing the Arctic shipping routes.”

Due to accelerated global warming, ice sheets are receding, thus making it possible for ships to travel via this route. Having sent its first ship through the region in 2013, Beijing is now investing in port infrastructure in the Arctic which connects to Europe.

China is also investing in designing ice breakers, vessels that would ease navigation through the Arctic. With help from Finnish Aker Arctic, China launched its first locally built ice breaker the Xue Long 2 in 2018.

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Apart from exploring new waterways and developing strategic ports, Beijing is developing a land route directly to Europe, as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), mainly as a way to export goods.

Thousands of trains are transversing across Asia in recent times, the modern-day version of the ancient Silk Road. Land routes are one way China can reduce the criticality of Chinese sea routes.

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The strategic importance of the Strait of Malacca to China will lessen over a period of time. India will still be in a position to throttle Chinese supply lines there, but it will not have the same impact that it once had.

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Americas

India Bets Big On Nikki Haley To Emerge As Vice Presidential Candidate Under Trump

Nikki Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.  

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India has pinned hopes on Nikki Haley to become the US Vice President (VP) should Donald Trump get re-elected this November. Haley, a first-generation Indian American, is expected to strengthen Indo-American relation and also attract a lot of voters including women and minorities.

According to the reports, there is speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Nikki Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate.

Despite resigning as US Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley has been active in politics. She has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena.

She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities and has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And Hailey has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.

The former governor of South Carolina, Haley is one of the people who left the Trump Administration on good terms. She has even promised to campaign for the President for his re-election bid.

Haley has echoed some of the same arguments Donald Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley differ dramatically.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, Haley’s recent moves can be seen as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse. Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events.

While Haley has dismissed reports about her running for VP, her being an influential person of colour could help Trump win constituencies he is currently losing.

India pinning hopes on Nikki Haley

The US Presidential elections are a spectacle observed globally and India would be hoping Trump wins and Haley gets elected as the VP. Haley enjoys nationwide popularity amongst Indian-Americans and her election as VP could lead to stronger ties between Washington and New Delhi.

She has natural links to India with her parents having emigrated to the US in the 1960s from Punjab. Haley has often pointed out that India is an example of a free government and recently even applauded New Delhi’s decision to ban 59 Chinese applications and for standing up to China.

With an Indian-American at the helm of affairs, New Delhi would see it as an opportunity to get closer to Washington. It could lead to India benefitting in the areas of trade, defence and investment and would be a huge blow to neighbours China and Pakistan.

US Presidential elections are scheduled to take place in November and will be contested between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. While Biden’s re-election does not mean that India and the United States will have weak relations, having Trump in the White House and Haley as VP would definitely lead to stronger Indo-American ties.

Armaan Srivastava. Views Personal

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