The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the government of Bangladesh to repeal the Digital Security Act to protect freedom of speech in the country.
The watchdog said today that the authorities in Bangladesh are using the law to harass and indefinitely detain activists, journalists, and others critical of the government and its political leadership.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said, "At a time when the government should be reducing the prison population to protect against the spread of Covid-19, they are locking people up simply for their comments on social media."
A report from the HRW mentioned journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol, cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, activist Mushtaq Ahmed and Didarul Bhuiyan who have been arrested recently under Digital Security Act.
It also mentioned the arrest of a 15-year-old for allegedly "defaming" the prime minister in a Facebook post.
"Instead of using Covid-19 as pretense to lock up critics, the authorities should be responding to the pandemic by releasing people like Kajol, who have been arbitrarily arrested and pose no danger to others," Brad Adams.
The HRW also criticised indefinite periods of pretrial detention in Bangladesh.
"International law requires that pretrial detention be used as an exception, not the rule, and is only to be used for the shortest possible time and when demonstrably necessary for specific reasons, including risk of flight and threats to witnesses," the report said.
"The authorities should also be making every effort to reduce prison populations during the Covid-19 pandemic by releasing those who pose no serious and concrete risk to others and refraining from new custodial arrests, absent an assessment that the person arrested poses a serious danger to others," it added.