Dhaka, Sep 15 (EFE).– Activists are not terrorists, said a top United Nations official on human rights and climate change on Thursday, urging the Bangladesh government to amend a contentious law used to harass human rights defenders.
Ian Fry, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change, said the “harassment and threats and intimidation against climate change human rights defenders and indigenous peoples must end.”
Fry addressed reporters at the end of his one-and-a-half-week visit to Bangladesh.
The government denies that the contentious Digital Security Act harasses climate change human rights defenders.
But the UN expert urged Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration “to ensure that public comment about climate change matters is allowed to be given freely.”
“The act needs to be amended so that climate change human rights defenders and indigenous peoples are not caught up in a broad definitional issue related to terrorism. These people are not terrorists,” he said.
Fry arrived in Bangladesh on Sep.4 for his first official visit to any country after assuming office in May.
He visited key cities like Khulna and Sylhet to meet senior government officials and members of civil society and discussed issues associated with climate change and human rights.
Fry said he came across the issue regarding the Digital Security Act.
“This is the view that I have received from civil society organisations and they expressed concern that the post made on social media had been targeted,” he said.
The DSA came into effect in 2018 before a general election in which the Awami League and its allies retained power for a third consecutive term.
Bangladesh has imprisoned at least 433 people under the DSA, most of them for allegedly publishing false and offensive information online, rights group Amnesty International says.
Those targeted include journalists, cartoonists, musicians, activists, entrepreneurs, students, and even a farmer, who cannot read or write.
Fry said he spoke with many women and their groups, complaining about the lack of gender inequality.
“Many, many women carry a disproportionate burden with respect to addressing the impacts of climate change. There are indications that the country may be going backwards with respect to gender equality,” he said.
Fry, an Australian with roots in Tuvalu, became the first Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change in May 2022. EFE