Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has published a gallery of grim portraits, those of 37 heads of state or government who crack down massively on press freedom. Some of these “predators of press freedom” have been operating for more than two decades while others have just joined the blacklist, which for the first time includes two women and a European predator.
Nearly half (17) of the predators are making their first appearance on the 2021 list, which RSF is publishing five years after the last one, from 2016, said RSF. All are heads of state or government who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them, when they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered.
Of the 37 heads of state or government, RSF named Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as one of the predators of press freedom.
About Hasina, RSF in its report said, “Sheikh Hasina has been a leading figure in Bangladeshi politics since the early 1980s. For years, she led the opposition to various authoritarian regimes that used violence to persecute journalists. Then her party won the December 2008 parliamentary elections by a landslide, and she took office as prime minister the following month.”
“Thereafter, she became increasingly more authoritarian and ready to crack down on press freedom. The trend was confirmed in 2014 when her reelection was made all the easier by the fact that the opposition was denied access to the news media. Although she claims to respect press freedom, her hold on power has been buttressed ever since by a refusal to tolerate any criticism.”
About Digital Security Act, the report said, “The Digital Security Act (DSA) adopted in 2018 has rounded off the arsenal that her government uses to impose her views. Packed with deliberately vague wording, it is the ultimate weapon for getting journalists to censor themselves. Online content “liable to disturb public order” is punishable by seven years in prison while “negative propaganda against (...) the Father of the Nation” – Sheikh Hasina’s own father – is punishable by 14 years in prison. In other words, vast, vaguely-defined areas have been rendered completely off limits.”
It further said, “The Digital Security Act enables Sheikh Hasina’s supporters to harass all journalists and bloggers who annoy the authorities. In the first two years or so after it came into effect, it was used to prosecute around 400 individuals, including more than 70 journalists and bloggers. Those jailed under this law are subjected to such appalling conditions that one of them, Mushtaq Ahmed, died in prison in February 2021.”
“The supporters of Sheikh Hasina’s party, the Awami League, and its student branch, the Chhatra League, serve as her enforcers in the field, harassing and attacking reporters to prevent them from covering streets protests or any form of unrest, especially during elections, sometimes acting as virtual lynch mobs. Journalists often end up in hospital and, in some cases, in the morgue,” the report added.