Journalist charged for reporting on rising food prices in Bangladesh

Students protesting the arrest of journalist Shamsuzzaman Shams. Source: The Guardian

Journalist Shamsuzzaman Shams was abducted by police on March 29th, few days after he had written a report on hunger, in Savar, Bangladesh. In the report, he had quoted a worker on the independence day of Bangladesh saying “If you don’t get rice in your stomach, what will you do with freedom? When you go to the market, you sweat. We want fish, meat and freedom of choice.” Most of the people in Bangladesh live in extreme poverty and are suffering from the rising costs of food. The article, in which ordinary people talked about their daily struggle with the rising food prices, had gone viral, and a politician filed a complaint on it. Shams was abducted in the middle of the night by plainclothes police and charged for “smearing the face of the government with false news”. The prime minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina said that the Prothlom Alo, the newspaper which published the report and is one of the most widely read daily newspapers in Bangladesh, is an enemy of the people and democracy.

The journalist was charged under the Digital Security Act, which was introduced in 2018. He is one of the 3000 who have faced charges based on this act. The law is supposed to prevent “digital crime”, and is used by the government to silence critics. In 2021, an activist, who was detained based on accused violation of the act, died in jail after being tortured. Other than journalists, it has been used against youth and other ordinary social media users. Some of the allegations are completely made up: even a peasant, who did not have access to internet, was charged under the act for posting “false information” on Facebook. Many human rights organizations and journalists have been demanding the government to end the law.

In 2022, 11,4% of the population in Bangladesh were undernourished. Of children under five years old, 9,8% showed signs of acute undernourishment and 28% showed signs of chronic undernourishment. Child mortality was at 2,9%. In the Global Hunger Index Bangladesh ranked 84th of 121 countries (the 1st having the least hunger). This situation has been made even worse by the deepening worldwide crisis: from 2021 to 2022 the price of eggs rose by 39%, powdered milk by 12%, beef by 13%, poultry by 25%, onions and fresh vegetables by 20%. The price of cooking oil and palm oil has risen from 50% to 61%, the price of flour went up by 45% and 71% for finer variant in a year. The prices of pulses (a group of crops including beans and lentils), which are part of the daily diet of the people in Bangladesh, rose by 38% to 51% based on variants.

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