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CPJ urges President Hamid to return Digital Security Act to Parliament for revision

  • Published at 11:46 am September 22nd, 2018
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Parliament on September 18 passed the much-talked-about Digital Security Bill, 2018, which provides for stiff penalties for a wide variety of cyber infractions

The Committee to Protect Journalists, in a letter to President Abdul Hamid, has expressed concern about the Digital Security Act that.

Parliament on September 18 passed the much-talked-about Digital Security Bill, 2018, which provides for stiff penalties for a wide variety of cyber infractions.

In the letter published on September 21, the independent press freedom advocacy organization urged that be reviewed.

CPJ said it is concerned that this legislation, if allowed to become law, would violate constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, and would create extensive legal dangers for journalists in the normal course of carrying out their professional activities

The letter said: “CPJ respectfully urges you to exercise your constitutional authority to return the legislation to Parliament for revisions that would eliminate these dangers.

“Specifically, we ask that legislators address the concerns that have been expressed repeatedly by the community of journalists in Bangladesh.”

It said: “One of the most worrisome provisions of the Digital Security Act is an amendment added at the last minute in Section 43, which will allow police to arrest or search individuals without a warrant.”

“In addition, the Digital Security Act includes problematic aspects of Section 57 of the Information and Communications Technology Act, despite public promises by government ministers to eliminate it,” it added. 

In the letter to the president, CJP said Section 57 has been repeatedly used to imprison journalists in defamation cases. Government ministers had previously acknowledged that police have misused Section 57, and had promised that procedures would be established to prevent this. 

Instead, journalists continue to be subject to the danger of arbitrary arrest in the normal course of their activities.

It said: “Also of concern is the inclusion of the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in the Digital Security Act, which seems to contradict the Right to Information provisions included elsewhere in the legislation. The extension of the Official Secrets Act into the digital sphere escalates the hazards faced by investigative journalists who play a vital role exposing corruption in government.”

It said the extremely heavy fines and punishments, up to Tk50,000,000 (US$600,000) and life imprisonment depending on the offense, threaten to make journalism an unacceptably hazardous profession and will result in a timid press that cannot play the important role required to support a vital democracy in Bangladesh. 

CPJ also expressed concern that the vague descriptions of potential offenses, such as hurting religious values or causing deterioration in law and order, would invite arbitrary use and misuse of the law to restrict the media.

“Bangladesh has a proud history as a secular democracy with strong affirmations of human rights and freedom of speech and the press. This legislation promises to damage that tradition, and to severely harm Bangladesh's standing among the community of democracies as a defender of press freedom,” the letter said.