How can ordinary citizens of Bangladesh safeguard their online freedom of expression in line with existing laws and regulations? What is the prevailing state of online gender based violence against women? Do prevailing legal frameworks of Bangladesh impede press freedom? These and many other practical concerns of today’s society were discussed at length on January 19, 2019 at Cumilla city of Bangladesh. The workshop was organized by VOICE with support from APC and SIDA. It was organized as part of VOICE’s ongoing research initiative which is taking an in-depth look into the aforementioned issues in view of strengthening free expression online.
Participants expressed their concern that increasing control over digital and online content and services like Facebook, YouTube and Internet connectivity speed might undermine democratic principles. A growing confusion over the provisions of the newly introduced laws was also reflected in the discussion. Journalists pointed out that a fear of unknowingly breaking laws makes it difficult to carry out their duties. Speakers also discussed the roles and responsibilities of citizens in achieving the vision of a digital Bangladesh. There was a unanimous agreement that the number of unreported cases of online gender based violence against women far outweigh the reported ones.
Speakers and participants recommended that legal documents affecting online freedom of expression should be made as clear as possible in pedestrian language so that all citizens can abide by them without fear. The necessity of providing hands-on training to young people, in particular, girls on how they can stay safe in online mediums was brought up repeatedly by the workshop participants. Speakers and participants all suggested that more of similar events should be organized at sub-national and local level than in the capital city of Bangladesh.
The inaugural session was presided by Mahfuzur Rahman Majumdar, Principal of Reliancer Technical College, Cumilla. Among others, Asaduzzaman Asad from BRAC, FahimaMehnaj, Noor Jannat Monia, Afsana Afroz, Mahbub Morshed, executive director of Darpan and Ahmed Swapan Mahmud from Voice spoke and gave presentations in the workshop sessions.