By Azad Majumder
Dhaka, May 22 (efe-epa).- Journalists in Bangladesh are up to multiple challenges in the coronavirus times as they run the risk of contracting the disease while they move around covering the pandemic.
There are two more swords of Damocles hanging over their heads. The government has allegedly intensified crackdown to silent any media criticism.
The equally disquieting fear is of sustaining livelihood as the media industry has been facing alarming layoffs due to coronavirus-induced economic slowdown.
For over a month, Rahim Shuvo has spent his days fearing arrest after police charged him under controversial digital security act for reporting alleged corruption in anti-Covid-19 aid measures.
On Apr. 9, Suvo, a correspondent of online news portal Bdnews24.com in the northern Thakurgaon district, reported an alleged theft of 68 sacks of rice – meant for open market sales for the poor – by a ruling party politician.
Along with his editor and two other journalists, who had also reported the matter in the media outlets they work for, were also charged.
“I am practically absconding now. I cannot even seek bail because courts are closed,” Shuvo told EFE on the phone.
The police have charged 41 individuals under the act between Apr. 1 and May 6, according to Human Rights Forum Bangladesh, a coalition of 20 rights and development nonprofits.
The accused include 20 journalists, a blogger, and a cartoonist, with some of them already detained.
On May 6, the security forces arrested cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore and writer Mushtaq Ahmed, accusing them of spreading social media rumors about the pandemic.
The authorities have charged two more under the same case, triggering criticism.
Amnesty International said more than 1,000 cases have been filed under the act since it was implemented in October 2018.
The number of cases has surged during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Certainly, handling a pandemic is a challenge for all states. But what is not helpful is to try and silence criticism,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
“It will hurt the government’s efforts in the end, because it is the role of civil society to identify gaps so that the authorities can take the rights steps,” she said.
Meanwhile, local journalists have not just suffered persecution under the law but also been hit by the disease.
According to Our Media, Our Rights, a social media-based volunteer group, the virus had infected at least 113 journalists and media workers until May 14, resulting in one death.
Two other journalists died with symptoms similar to the disease without being tested. Some 26 of them have recovered.
Dhaka accounts for 102 of the journalists who have tested positive.