The constitution promises freedom of expression, but the country's legal protections are too weak to ensure it for the ordinary people, said the experts.
The country's development will be hampered if the barriers to expressing opinions of the media and public in the country cannot be identified and removed, said the experts at a virtual discussion titled "Freedom of Expression in Bangladesh: Possibilities and Challenges," organised as part of a series of discussions held by Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA), on Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh's independence.
BILIA Chairman Barrister M Amir-ul-Islam presided over the programme and its Director Dr Mizanur Rahman moderated it. Dr Shantanu Majumder, professor at Department of Political Science, Dhaka University, presented the keynote paper there.
Zafar Wazed, director general of Bangladesh Press Institute, and Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, former president of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, participated in the discussion.
Barrister M Amir-ul Islam said, "There are four categories in case of expressing opinions: freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of feelings and freedom of thought. In Bangladesh, there is no complete law to protect any of these four for the general public and the media. As a result, in many cases, the media and ordinary citizens are being harassed in various ways."
He said, "We cannot see any noticeable initiative taken by the government to ensure these rights of the citizens. From time to time when the situation becomes turbulent on various issues, the matter of rights comes to the forefront for discussion. In addition, the Digital Security Act is in many cases a barrier to freedom of expression."
Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul said, "After the enactment of the Right to Information Act, the Official Secrets Act has automatically become ineffective. But recently, a journalist was sued under the old law. There is also no special legal framework for the protection of the media."
He said, "There is a policy for private television channels in Bangladesh, but no law in this regard has been enacted so far. As a result, the qualifications for getting a license for a television channel are not clear. It needs to be done quickly."
In the keynote paper, Dr Shantanu Majumdar discussed the types and contexts of freedom of expression in different developed countries. He highlighted three types of obstacles in Bangladesh in this regard and noted that there is no alternative to raising voice to ensure the right to express one's opinion.