NEW YORK—The government of Bangladesh’s May 17 directive for its international diplomatic missions to monitor the activities of Bangladeshi journalists traveling abroad encourages self-censorship and is an underhanded maneuver to control their speech, PEN America said in a statement today.

The circular, which was issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in accordance with recommendations from the Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tasks officials abroad to report any “negative activities” committed by journalists. Foreign Minister A.H. Mahmood Ali’s insisted that journalists’ work would not be impeded by this order but that it is important to monitor the actions of all Bangladeshi citizens who travel internationally.  Journalists were specifically targeted in the circular, however,  reportedly due to recent controversial Bangladeshi reporting from Pakistan.

“Any required monitoring of and reporting on journalists’ activities has a potentially chilling effect and constitutes a violation of their right to freedom of expression,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America. “Independent journalists must go where the truth is, regardless of whether or not it presents their country in a positive light. Coupled with Bangladesh’s abysmal record on free speech issues at home, this attempt by the Foreign Ministry to control media coverage abroad is indicative of the government’s goal of suppressing stories they don’t like.”

In the past few years, there has been a serious deterioration in the climate for free expression in Bangladesh. Radical Islamist groups have claimed the killings of at least six bloggers, free thinkers, and their publishers since February 2015, and recently, the attacks have widened to include civil society actors, academics, and religious figures with diverse views. Dozens of other dissenting voices have been driven into hiding or exile. Meanwhile, speech is increasingly constrained by a restrictive legal environment, official attempts to harass undermine independent journalists and media outlets, blocks on social media and other communications applications, a lack of governmental support for the principle of freedom of expression, and an unwillingness to provide police protection to those at risk.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT: Karin Karlekar, Director of Free Expression at Risk Programs: +1 646-779-4822, kdkarlekar@pen.org