Govt urged not to curb freedom of expression online
Journalists, academics, rights activists and civil society representatives on Tuesday urged the government not to curb citizens’ freedom of expression by controlling internet use.
They made the call at a dialogue on ‘Challenges and opportunities of freedom of expression online in Bangladesh’ and the launch of a report ‘Bangladesh: an assessment of freedom expression online’ at a local hotel in the capital.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression programme launched the report.
The speakers observed that there was no need to formulate an online policy, saying that the Shahbagh movement itself was the result of blogging or online activities.
Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the speakers at the programme emphasised the need to ensure right to freedom of expression online and pluralism in society.
The event was organised by VOICE, in association with Bangladesh Manabadhikar Sangbadik Forum, Campaign on Citizen Right to Information, Equity and Justice Working Group, Online Knowledge Society, Sushashaner Jonno Pracharavijan, School of Communications and Cultural Metaphysics.
VOICE executive director Swapan Mahmud said article 39 of the Bangladesh constitution gives right to people and newspapers to express opinion. ‘Any kind of control on the internet will create obstacle to freedom of expression by people.’
Swapan urged the government to stop detective vigilance on the people, ensure right to information to underprivileged citizens and introduce internet education in text books.
He observed that internet freedom should not be restricted in any way and emphasised that ‘we must educate all citizens to build a strong moral ground and respect for building progressive and democratic society collectively.’
Dhaka University teacher Robayet Ferdous said if a country had a single person of different religion and ethnicity, the government must ensure all his rights — this is called democracy.
He said, ‘Those who believe in the spirit of the country’s independence should raise mass awareness through internet about Jamat-Shibir activities as the Jamat-Shjibir activists, who work for money, are spreading their views and ideology through internet.’
He said the overall education system had problems and that was why Jamat-Shibir had the opportunity to expand their network from madrassahs to private universities.
He criticised the draft online media policy for charging high fee for licensing online news portal and yearly renewal fee while print media and its online version are free and do not need renewal fee.
Among others, Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, chief coordinator of Equity BD, Golam Mortuza, editor of Saptahik, Professor Wahiduzzaman of University of Dhaka, Khairuzamman Kamal, representative of International Federation of Journalist, and Manabendra Shaha from Nagarik Udyog also spoke at the programme.
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