New York, July 13, 2023—Bangladesh authorities must immediately drop their investigation into journalist Adhora Yeasmean and stop using the Digital Security Act to intimidate journalists in retaliation for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On May 13, the Chittagong Cyber Tribunal, which adjudicates alleged cybercrime offenses in southeast Bangladesh, registered a complaint under the Digital Security Act against Yeasmean and her source in relation to the RTV broadcast reporter’s April 29 video investigation exposing alleged crimes by the conversative Islamic organization Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif and one of its leaders, Shakerul Kabir, according to news reports and a person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.
Kabir filed the complaint accusing her of violating three sections of the Digital Security Act, according to CPJ’s review of the document. In her investigation, Yeasmean reported that Kabir has been accused of extortion, land grabbing, and violence against women.
The Digital Security Act, which criminalizes several forms of speech online, has frequently been used to target critical journalists in Bangladesh since its enactment in 2018. In March 2023, Bangladesh authorities arrested a Prothom Alo reporter and opened multiple investigations under the act into the leading newspaper’s leadership and staff, prompting United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk to reiterate his call on authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on the law.
CPJ and other rights groups also have called for the suspension of the law.
“It is appalling that Bangladeshi journalist Adhora Yeasmean has been targeted under the draconian Digital Security Act for her investigative reporting,” said Carlos Martinez de la Serna, CPJ’s program director. “Authorities must immediately drop their investigation, stop using the act against journalists, and ensure Yeasmean is not subjected to further retaliation for her work.”
Yeasmean found out about the complaint on July 8, in a call from a local police station. The next day, she learned she had been summoned for questioning on July 14 at the police Criminal Investigation Department in Chittagong’s Noakhali sub-district, about 173 kilometers (107 miles) from her home in the capital city Dhaka, according to the person who spoke to CPJ.
Yeasmean’s source, who appeared in her video investigation, is named as an accused in the complaint. Rajarbagh Darbar Sharif, led by Pir Dillur Rahman, has previously been accused of filing fabricated criminal complaints to facilitate land grabbing.
CPJ called and messaged Kabir and Muhammad Rafiqul Islam, the investigating officer in the case, but did not receive any replies.
Editor’s note: This report has been updated to correct the spelling of the reporter’s name and the publication date of her investigation.