Eight nongovernmental organisations have written to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressing concerns about media freedom in Bangladesh.
They urged her office to engage Bangladesh authorities to protect and respect freedom of expression.
Bachelet and UN experts should publicly and vigorously express concerns about the continuing attacks on the media, including arbitrary arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings, the statement read.
The rights bodies that wrote to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, in Geneva, include Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Asian Human Rights Commission, Asian Network for Free Elections, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Robert F Kennedy Human Rights.
"Bangladeshi journalists are risking arbitrary arrest, torture, and their lives, just to do their jobs," said Angelita Baeyens, Vice President of International Advocacy and Litigation at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
"The UN and concerned governments should stand with journalists and make clear to the Bangladesh government that freedom of expression is essential to democracy."
At least 247 journalists were reportedly subjected to attacks, harassment, and intimidation by state officials and others affiliated with the Bangladesh government in 2020. More than 900 cases were filed under the draconian Digital Security Act, with nearly 1,000 people charged and 353 detained, many of them journalists.
Bachelet's March 1, 2021, statement following the death in custody of a writer, Mushtaq Ahmed, and torture of a cartoonist, Ahmed Kishore, was important for highlighting the dangers facing journalists in custody, the organizations said.
The authorities continue to use the Digital Security Act (DSA) to harass and indefinitely detain journalists, activists, and others critical of the government, resulting in a chilling effect on expression of dissent. Bangladesh authorities are poised to undertake even more prosecutions of DSA cases, as the Law Ministry has approved a proposal to expand the number of special tribunals specifically for these types of cyber "crimes."
"The UN and donors should continue to take every opportunity to call on the government to repeal the Digital Security Act and release all those detained under it," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Anyone violently targeting journalists and activists should be held accountable, including ruling party activists."