The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Bangladesh Manobadhikar Sangbadik Forum (BMSF) have expressed serious concerns over the provisions curtailing the freedom of expression in the Digital Security Act 2018 draft.
In a joint statement, the IFJ and BMSF demanded that the Bangladesh government revises the draft act in accordance with international standards.
The Cabinet approved the Digital Security Act 2018 draft, designed to combat “growing cyber crimes that are affecting many public and private organizations.”
The draft will be now presented to the Jatiya Sangsad for approval, where the ruling Awami League holds a strong majority, and it is expected to pass, said the joint statement on Tuesday.
The draft seeks to repeal controversial Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act that deals with defamatory or other harmful contents online which has been used to silence critics and journalists.
However, journalists and rights activists believe that the new draft is draconian and gags freedom of expression.
"The IFJ is seriously concerned over the proposed Digital Security Act which, if implemented, will not only curb the freedom of speech and expression but also impede independent journalism. The Section 57 of the ICT Act was used arbitrarily to target journalists and curtail freedom of speech, and the IFJ believes the proposed act provides more grounds to grossly misuse the provisions to harass journalists and restrict freedom of expression," the statement read.
The IFJ urged the Bangladesh government and parliament to hold multi-stakeholder discussions and amend the draft to meet international standards before implementing it.
The proposed law has punishment provisions of life sentences for spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman using digital devices; up to five years jail term for deliberately publishing defamatory or false or distorted contents; up to 10 years jail term for hurting religious sentiments or hate speech or causing deterioration of law and order; and up to 14 years in jail on the charges of spying that includes illegally entering government offices to gather information or recording secretly using electronic devices.
The proposed law also empowers security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant issued by a court if a police officer believes that an offence under the Act has been committed or is being committed, or there is a possibility of crimes.