The human rights group slammed the government in a statement on the second anniversary of the inception of the Digital Security Act on Thursday.
The use of the ”draconian” law has escalated during the COVID-19 pandemic, the statement said.
Sultan Mohammed Zakaria, Amnesty International’s South Asia researcher, called for “substantial” reforms to the Act in line with the country’s constitution and its human rights obligations.
Nearly 2,000 cases have been filed under the Act since its enactment in 2018, Amnesty said, citing data from the Bangladeshi government’s Cyber Crime Tribunal.
More than 800 of these cases were filed in the first nine months of 2020 alone where many of the country’s most prominent editors and senior journalists are being “increasingly targeted”, the London-based group said.
“Since its inception, the Digital Security Act has been wielded as a weapon to silence critics and suppress dissent. The Bangladeshi authorities have exploited the law’s vague and broad provisions to escalate attacks on independent journalism and media freedom,” said Zakaria.
“The recent crackdown and increased targeting of prominent journalists is clearly a cynical effort by the authorities to use the COVID-19 crisis as a cover to ramp up these efforts,” he added.
At least 10 editors of national and regional dailies and online news platforms have faced legal charges under the Digital Security Act following criticism of leaders of the ruling Awami League in 2020, according to the statement.
It referenced to the disappearance of Shafiqul Islam Kajol, a photojournalist and the editor of the Daily Pokkhokal, in March in Dhaka, a day after Awami League MP Saifuzzaman Shikhor filed a case against Kajol under the Act for sharing a Facebook post criticising him.
Kajol was found near the Bangladesh-India border town Benapole 53 days later and is currently in pre-trial detention facing two other cases under the Digital Security Act.
The Daily Manab Zamin Editor Matiur Rahman is among 30 others accused in the case as well.
Amnesty International noted that the leader of an Awami League affiliate sued bdnews24.com Editor-in-Chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi and Jago News Acting Editor Mohiuddin Sarker in April under the Digital Security Act for publishing reports on coronavirus relief embezzlement.
News Editor of Dainik Grameen Darpan, Ramzan Ali Pramanik, Staff Reporter Shanta Banik, online news portal Narsingdi Pratidin’s Editor Khandaker Shahin were arrested over a news report on a custodial death at Ghorashal Police Station in May.
Later that month the editor of Amar Habiganj, Shushant Dash Gupta, was arrested in a case under the Act for publishing a report implicating an Awami League leader in alleged corruption.
Aftrerwards the Bengali national daily Inqilab editor AMM Bahauddin was sued under the Act for publishing a story about an advisor to the prime minister in June.
“These journalists are being targeted simply for reporting on critical stories of the authorities and holding the powerful to account. The charges against them must be dropped and those detained must be released immediately and unconditionally,” Zakaria said.