Bangladesh teen held for ‘offensive music video’ mocking Modi, Hasina

The teenager's arrest comes days after Islamist groups launched deadly protests against PM Modi's visit to Bangladesh to mark the 50th anniversary of its attaining nationhood.

A teenager in Bangladesh has been arrested for making a music video mocking Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, news agency AFP reported.

Rabiul Islam, 19, was arrested on Wednesday in a northern town based on a complaint by a pro-government youth leader under the stringent Digital Security Act, AFP quoted local police chief Abdullah Al-Mamun as saying.

“He made an offensive music video using photos of Bangladeshi and Indian prime ministers and posted it on his Facebook timeline,” Al-Mamun said.

Islam faces up to 14 years in prison under the said Act and is expected to be charged with “defaming and tarnishing the image of the head of government”.

The teenager’s arrest comes days after hardline groups launched large-scale protests against PM Modi’s visit to Bangladesh to mark the 50th anniversary of its attaining nationhood. Over a dozen people were killed in the clashes and the radical groups also attacked Hindu temples in the country.

Islamist groups accuse Modi of discriminating against minority Muslims in Hindu-majority India.

What is Digital Security Act, 2018?

Islam’s arrest has been made under the Digital Security Act of 2018, which was brought in place of the controversial Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act of 2006.

The ICT Act granted law enforcers the right to arrest any person without a warrant for up to 14 years. Between 2012-18, over a thousand people were arrested under the ICT Act, according to a report by DW.

After widespread criticism, the law was replaced with the DSA, which the government claimed would end arbitrary arrests. But many of the ICT Act’s provisions were reproduced in different forms in the new law.

Hundreds of people have been arrested since 2018 under the Act for alleged crimes that include smearing the image of the prime minister and other political figures.

Section 21 of the DSA authorises life imprisonment, along with a hefty fine, for engaging in “propaganda” or a “campaign” against the “spirit of the liberation War”, “father of the nation”, the “national anthem” or “national flag”.

Section 25 of the Act provides special protection to the state, and thus may be used to prohibit or punish legitimate political expression.

International organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have spoken against the new digital law, saying it has tightened the government’s chokehold on free speech.

The new law also prohibits effective investigative journalism, Bangladesh’s Editors’ Council, an association of newspaper editors, has said.

In March, widespread protests took place in the country over the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in detention, who was arrested under DSA for publishing an article and sharing Facebook posts critical of Hasina’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

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