Journalists and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) play a crucial role in developing the human rights culture and ensuring the rule of law in society at both the local and national levels. With the expectation of further strengthening the link and network between the journalists and human rights defenders to address the country’s human rights issues more effectively, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) organised a two-day long virtual Dialogue with Journalists and Human Rights Defenders from 6 to 7 April 2021. A total of 35 participants, including human rights defenders, local and national level journalists from electronic, print, and online media, attended the virtual event. The participants joined the session from 13 different districts, including Dhaka, throughout Bangladesh; namely, Bagerhat, Bogura, Cox’s Bazar, Jessore, Jhenaidah, Joypurhat, Narail, Pirojpur, Potuakhali, Rajshahi, Satkhira, Sunamganj.
The dialogue commenced on 6 April with the introductory remarks by Golam Monowar Kamal, Executive Director, ASK. He expressed the importance of conducting such a dialogue every year as the journalists and human rights defenders of the land are the critical stakeholders for almost every initiative adopted with regards to developing and reforming laws, policy, conducting advocacy initiatives, etc.
Following the introductory remarks, Nina Goswami, Director (Programmes), ASK, expressed that the current situation of Bangladesh is such that fundamentalism has come to the fore. Many new challenges and obstacles have arisen with the COVID-19 pandemic. She noted that the sessions of the dialogue are categorised, keeping these issues in mind.
The first session on ‘Emerging Human Rights Issues in COVID-19 Situation’ was facilitated by Md. Nur Khan, a Human Rights Activist and Secretary General of the Executive Committee, ASK. One year since the coronavirus entered Bangladesh, he shared how the country’s human rights situation has become more alarming. He mentioned that mass arrests curtailing freedom of expression, restrictions in the citizens’ right to peaceful assembly, custodial death and torture, mismanagement in the distribution of relief, workers’ right to work, hurting religious sentiment, corruption, and irregularities in government’s initiatives, etc., were also matters of grave concern.
The second session on ‘Hate Speech and Disinformation vs. Freedom of Expression’ was facilitated by Kaberi Gayen, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, University of Dhaka (DU). She highlighted how the purpose and intent behind an expression determine its protection as a human right or freedom. She further discussed fake news, misinformation, and disinformation and emphasised the importance of accurate and adequate information and knowledge on issues and their due role in journalism and activism by human rights defenders.
The third session on ‘Portrayal of Women in the Media in contributing to Gender-based Violence’ was facilitated by Robaet Ferdous, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, DU. He expressed how the language, context, and overall portrayal of women in the traditional media has chipped-in in encouraging Gender Based Violence (GBV) and also played a decisive role in negatively shaping the mindset of the mass people. He further mentioned how important is it to break the patriarchal mindset of those working in the media, as the role of media is crucial in creating mass awareness and advocacy campaigns.
The fourth session on ‘Freedom of Press for Ensuring Good Governance and Human Rights’ was facilitated by Dr. Gitiara Nasreen, Professor, Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, DU. She noted the merging and overlapping duties of journalists and human rights defenders. In this context, the freedom of the press to inform the general public of the actions, initiatives, measures, and appropriate steps taken by the government is fundamental. She concluded her session with some recommendations to the participant for strengthening the press and media houses.
On 7 April, the fifth session on ‘Religious Intolerance and Violent Extremism’ was facilitated by Amena Mohsin, Professor, Department of International Relations, DU. Her session gave a detailed description to the participants regarding the characteristics, elements, and factors of religion-centric intolerance and violent extremism. In her session, she shared how the media and patriarchal mindset of the people and how globalisation and digitalisation play a significant role in materializing the ideologies or beliefs and their relevant link to terrorism.
The sixth session on ‘Sustainable Development, Climate Change and Human Rights’ was facilitated by Dr. Tanzimuddin Khan, Professor, Department of International Relations, DU. He shared how the state must take a sustainable stance to fulfil the requirements of its present people while also keeping the interests and needs of the future generation in mind. The most significant concern in the current times is that of Climate Change and how it contributes to affecting the right to life of many.
Expressing the need and necessity of the role of journalists and human rights defenders in addressing human rights concerns from all strata of life, Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Senior Coordinator, Advocacy and Networking, ASK, in the final session of the dialogue on ‘Working together for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights’ expressed the importance to continue building bridges with the journalist and human rights defenders from all across Bangladesh.
Golam Monowar Kamal, in his concluding remarks, hoped that through this dialogue, the journalists and human rights defenders were able to enhance their skills and knowledge on various emerging and cross-cutting issues in Bangladesh.