Freedom of expression under attack in Bangladesh: rights body

New York, Jan 27 (IANS) Freedom of expression came under severe attack in Bangladesh in 2015, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2016.

While extremist groups targeted secular bloggers and foreign aid workers, the government cracked down on media and civil society activists, launched contempt of court proceedings or prosecuted them under vague and overbroad laws, it said in a 659-page report.

Several commuters were killed or injured during violence that erupted during some Bangladeshi opposition blockades of transport routes, the US-based rights body said.

The government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, became increasingly authoritarian, with security forces arresting key opposition leaders, often on trumped up charges, and state authorities refusing to prosecute security forces for serious violations, including torture, killings, and enforced disappearances.

In 2015, five bloggers with atheist sympathies were hacked to death by extremist groups. Other bloggers, writers and publishers, whose names were published on a hit-list, went into hiding, concerned that government protection was either absent or at best inadequate.

A Shia procession and a Hindu temple faced serious attacks, with many wounded.

Members of the opposition Jamaat-e-Islami and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said they feared arbitrary arrest or extrajudicial killings, the report said.

Civil society and media faced harsh conditions. Forty-nine people were prosecuted for expressing public support for another journalist’s right to publish fair criticism of war crimes trials.

Media critical of the government continued to face closure, as editors and journalists faced charges and arrest. Two men were prosecuted for social media posts criticizing the government.

In a positive development, efforts to shore up support for labour rights in the country’s garment industry seemed to be having an impact, with a rise in the number of labour unions registered, although concerns remain about the capacity of workers to form and participate freely in labour unions, Human Rights Watch said.

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