Thursday, December 13, 2018 | ePaper

President urged not to assent to Digital Security Bill

Plea to send it back to JS for review of stakeholders' opinion afresh

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Monirul Alam :
Eminent personalities -- rights activists, lawyers and journalists -- have expressed concern over the passes of the Digital Security Bill 2018 in the parliament on Wednesday saying the new bill, once it turns a law, will have adverse impact on freedom of speech of the citizens of the country.
The bill now requires the assent of the President followed by the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to go for enacting a law in lights of the sections and clauses of the Digital Security Bill 2018 and rename it as Digital Security Act (DSA) 2018 to issue a gazette notification towards their enforcement.
Under the new law, the government will need to establish an institution styled 'Digital Security Agency' in order to engage and allow police to enforce legal measures against a person committing crime/s described by it.
The new law aims to take legal actions against hurting religious values, disrupting public order, propaganda against Liberation War, dishing out defaming information and causing law and order deterioration through publishing anything in website or electronic form.
The law enables the government to arrest and punish anyone for computer and digital spying and violating state secrecy. The section 32 says if a person commits any crime or assists anyone in committing crimes through computer, digital device, computer network, digital network or any other electronic medium, he or she may face a maximum 14 years in jail or a fine of Tk 25 lakh or both. The obsolete colonial regime law titled 'Official Secrecy Act 1923' has been revived in the law while it has also incorporated the clause 57 of the previously proposed Digital Security Act in various forms ignoring the appeal of the senior journalists, including editors, leaders of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) and owners of private TV channels.
Talking to The New Nation on Thursday, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman made an appeal to the President for not to assent the bill and create opportunity for a fresh round of review considering the stakeholders views.
"We call upon the honorable President not to assent to it when submitted to him and return it to the Parliament for reviewing its controversial and repressive contents and create the opportunity for a fresh round of consideration of stakeholders' views in public interest."
Dr Iftekharuzzaman said the DSA contains all possible elements of being ranked as a most intimidating and repressive law that could be ever imagined.
He said it is directly contradictory to the core spirit of independence of Bangladesh and undermines the fundamental constitutional pledges, especially in terms of freethinking, freedom of opinion.
"By inhibiting free media, objective reporting and investigating journalism, it will promote and protect law-breaking, abuse of power and corruption, violating of human rights and denial of civil and political rights. It not only manifests extreme level of intolerance of critical views among sections of powers that be, but in the name of digital security it also promises to create a severe sense of insecurity in the minds of common people."
Supreme Court Advocate Dr Shahdeen Malik said the law would seriously affect and restrict the freedom of speech of the people of the country.
"It is one of the worst laws ever enacted in this country and freedom of speech will be seriously compromised and restricted. Consequently, this law will also weaken democracy," Dr Malik said.
Dr Asif Nazrul, Professor of Department of Law of Dhaka University, said, the Digital Security Act 2018 is against the spirit of Liberation War as well as the constitutional rights.
"This is also a deception with the people of the country. Because, ministers and senior parliamentarians had pledged journalists and human rights activists to remove flaws or objectionable proportions of the draft at several views exchange meetings. But, the pledge has been denied by passing of the Act without correction or amendments as per commitments," Dr Nazrul said.
Senior journalists have alleged that the Parliamentary Committee has ignored their concerns on sections 8, 28, 29 and 31 that deal with hurting religious values, disrupting public order, dishing out defaming information and causing law and order deterioration through publishing anything in website or electronic form.
At a meeting held on July 4 this year with the Parliamentary Committee, Editors' Council, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) and Association of Television Channel Owners (ATCO) had placed an 11-point change to the proposed Digital Security Act.
Representatives of the three organisations told the committee that they would share their opinions on the changes later, following discussions in respective forums.
The committee had set July 16 as a follow up meeting with the three organisations on the bill. But the meeting was postponed and no fresh date was announced afterwards.
Earlier on May 22 this year, the committee had invited presidents and general secretaries of the Editors' Council and BFUJ and president and senior vice president of ATCO to a meeting to hear their views.
At the meeting, the three organisations voiced concerns over sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, and 43, saying these would greatly hamper the freedom of speech and independent journalism.
Law Minister Anisul Huq and Posts, Telecommunications and IT Minister Mustafa Jabbar earlier on several occasions assured journalists of taking measures to mitigate their concerns.
On April 9, the Digital Security Bill, 2018 was placed in Parliament amid growing concerns among journalists and rights activists about freedom of the press and expression if the bill passed as it was.
The Editors' Council expressed concern at the insertion of the colonial era Official Secrets Act saying that this was a clear contradiction with the RTI.
Regarding the concerns of journalists about section 43 that says a police official can search or arrest anyone without any warrant issued by a court, the committee suggested that police only carry out the job following approval of the Director General of Digital Security Agency.

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