Bangladesh police on Wednesday invoked a controversial internet law to arrest one of the country’s top recruitment executives for posting satirical cartoons of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina online.
A cyber crimes division from the Dhaka metropolitan police detained Fahim Mashroor, the CEO of Bangladesh’s largest job-hunting site, for “anti-state activities.”
“Mashroor was arrested over a case for allegedly posting satirical portraits and information about the honorable prime minister on social media,” said police spokesman Masudur Rahman.
The 48-year-old executive was detained after a pro-government student politician filed a complaint under the internet act, which critics say stifles dissent and freedom of expression. Under the law, anyone who deliberately publishes material deemed to hurt religious beliefs, offend the state or damage law and order can be jailed for 14 years.
Al Sadik, the activist from the student wing of Hasina’s ruling Awami League, likened Mashroor’s satirical posts to “anti-state activities.”
“Mashroor kept pouring oil in the fire. The general election is nearing. Such harassing and provocative acts against the prime minister was surely ill-motivated,” he told AFP.
Critics say Hasina’s government has used the internet act to undermine opponents in the lead-up to the general election slated for December.
U.N. Rapporteur Heiner Bielefeldt said in 2015 the law—which has been used in recent years to jail high-profile journalists and activists—has had a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression in Bangladesh.
Hundreds of Bangladeshi journalists demonstrated in February when the government approved a draft of another digital security act. That law says journalists who secretly film or gather information from inside government offices could be convicted of espionage and face 14 years in prison.
The European Union, the U.K. and U.S. have expressed concern over the draft, which is still before parliament, saying it would “suppress freedom of expression in different ways.”