Internet freedom in Bangladesh has reached a record low as the authorities have continued to arrest users under the Digital Security Act (DSA), according to a report by Freedom House, a US-based think tank, on Tuesday.
Bangladesh has scored 40 points out of 100 in the "Freedom on the Net 2021" report, indicating the country partly enjoyed internet freedom.
The country saw a two-point decline in its internet freedom score from the previous year's score of 42. Bangladesh scored 44 in 2019, 49 in 2018, 46 in 2017 and 44 in 2016.
The report highlighted that more than 800 cases were filed in Bangladesh under the DSA in the first nine months of 2020, and data from the government's cyber crime tribunal shows that nearly 2,000 cases have been filed under the DSA since it came into implementation in October 2018.
Moreover, Bangladesh has consistently been categorised as a "Partly Free" country on the internet freedom index since 2013.
Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar said he did not find the report acceptable at all.
"I don't think there is any basis for the report published by such a private organisation. They prepare their reports as they wish and release them," said Mustafa Jabbar.
He further said, "I don't see where the freedom of the internet is declining in Bangladesh."
Commenting on the Digital Security Act, he said, "I don't see that the act has been hurting people instead of protecting them."
"Filing only 800 cases in a country of 17 crore people is not significant at all," he said.
He further said, "Don't you see the scale of digital crimes like the ones Evaly committed and how it is happening?"
The Internet freedom ratings are assigned in three categories: Free, Partly Free and Not Free. A score of 100-70 means a country is free, 69-40 means it is partly free and 39-0 means it is not free in using the internet.
The report assessed the level of internet freedom in 70 countries based on 21 questions under the three categories – Obstacles to Access, Limits on Content and Violations of User Rights – between the period 1 June 2020 and 31 May 2021.
Among four South Asian countries reviewed, Bangladesh is only ahead of Pakistan as the latter continued to tightly control its online environment. It achieved only 25 points this year and was categorised as "Not Free" in terms of internet freedom.
Bangladesh, however, is behind Sri Lanka and India, countries which earned 51 points and 49 points respectively.
Global internet freedom declines for 11th year
Global internet freedom has declined for the 11th year in a row, according to the report.
Scores of around 30 countries worsened during the period covered in this year's report, while 18 countries registered gains.
Myanmar recorded the largest drop over the period, followed by Belarus and Uganda, while Ecuador experienced the largest improvement, followed by The Gambia.
According to the report, China – placed last in the ranking – had the worst conditions for internet freedom for the seventh consecutive year.
For the third year in a row, Iceland ranked as having the best environment for internet freedom, followed by Estonia. Residents of both countries enjoy high rates of access, few restrictions on content, and robust protections for human rights online.
Freedom House is a non-profit non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights. It was founded in October 1941. ***