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President Hamid assents to Digital Security Bill despite grave concerns

  • Published at 05:57 pm October 8th, 2018
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Apart from Digital Security Act, He also signed six other bills into law, including a crucial one - the Road Transport Bill 2018

President Abdul Hamid consented to the much-talked-about Digital Security Bill 2018 into law, confirmed the president’s Press Secretary Joynal Abedin on Monday, reports UNB. 

Apart from Digital Security Act, President Hamid also signed six other bills into law, including a crucial one - the Road Transport Bill 2018.

A major movement rolled out immediately after the death of two college students by a privately-owned bus on Dhaka’s Airport Road on July 29, which made the bill a hot topic in the public sphere lately.

The other bills assented by the President are: Dawra-e-Hadith (Taqmil) from Qawmi Madrasas as equivalent to certificate of master’s degree (Islamic Studies and Arabic) under the Al Haiatul Ulaya Lil-Jamiatul Kawmiya Bangladesh Bill, 2018; National Sports Council Bill, 2018; The state-owned Manufacturing Industries Workers (Conditions of Service) Bill, 2018; Bangladesh Freedom Fighters Welfare Trust Bill, 2018 and Community Clinic Health Assistance Trust Bill, 2018, reports BSS.

On October 1, the President gave his consent to 11 bills out of 18 bills passed in the 22nd session of the parliament.

The 22nd session, which was prorogued on September 20, passed a total of 18 bills, including the Digital Security Bill 2018 and Road Transport Bill 2018.

Last week, Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury sent the bill to the president for his approval.

Amid concerns from various quarters, Parliament passed the Digital Security Bill 2018 on September 19 to deal with cybercrimes, including hurting religious sentiments, negative propaganda against the Liberation War and Bangabandhu, and illegal activities in e-transactions and spreading defamatory data. 

The law has faced vocal opposition from journalists and rights campaigners who say it could quash freedom of speech – especially on social media –and would undermine responsible journalism.    

The new law provides for a minimum of seven years and a maximum of fourteen years’ imprisonment, as well as monetary fines of a minimum of Tk2.5 million and maximum of Tk10 million, or both, for illegal access and destruction of any important information related to state affairs.  

The Editors’ Council, a council of top editors, urged authorities not to pass the law, saying it would seriously curtail democracy in the south Asian country.

Top editors and journalists had a last-minute meeting with government ministers demanding that some sections of the legislation be changed.

After a meeting with the Editors' Council on September 30, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the Editors' Council's objections to nine sections of the 'Digital Security Bill' and its demand for amending those would be placed before the Cabinet for discussions.

However, the president went ahead and signed the act into law without waiting.

Main opposition BNP has also urged the citizens to put up a strong resistance against the bill, terming it a dangerous 'black' law.

"We don't accept today's law (Digital Security Law). In fact, we don't accept any law of this government as those were passed in a parliament which has no legitimacy," said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, in a press briefing last week backed the law. She told journalists: "someone who does not have a criminal mindset or no plan to commit crimes in the future has nothing to worry".

“I know that several noted editors, journalists and intellectuals of society have given their opinions against it. They are only concerned about whether their voice is repressed. But that will not be the case." 

Addressing the press conference on October 1, the prime minister said journalists who do not provide false news need not be worried over the upcoming law.

The Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International (TIB) slammed the move in an immediate reaction.

"We are very disappointed," AFP quoted Sheikh Manjur E Alam, TI Bangladesh spokesman, as saying.

"But we firmly want to believe it won't be used or abused before the government has a discussion as was promised about the amendment of the law," he said.

Hundreds of journalists have staged demonstrations against the law in recent days and editors have said the law poses serious threats to freedom of expression and media in the country.

Media rights groups in Bangladesh and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) have already condemned the law.

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