'The government must revert its course from this regressive law, that compromises its international commitments; and ensure they fully uphold the right to freedom of expression as protected by international human rights law'
Rights organizations, both international and domestic, have voiced serious concerns about parliament’s passage of new Digital Security Bill, 2018 into law and unanimously said the new act will impose very strict restrictions on freedom of speech.
“This law imposes dangerous restrictions on freedom of expression. Instead of learning from the lessons of the past, it seeks to repeat them. Given how the authorities have arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people in the past six years under the Information and Communication Technology Act, there are serious concerns that the new Act will be used against people who speak out,” reads a statement signed by Amnesty International’s (AI) South Asia campaigner, Saad Hammadi.
“The government’s disregard for editors’ recommendations and the concerns of the general public, shows lack of concern for the grave issues regarding the bill that have been raised by civil society.”
“The government must revert its course from this regressive law, that compromises its international commitments; and ensure they fully uphold the right to freedom of expression as protected by international human rights law,” he said.
Echoing the AI, the Bangladesh chapter of Transparency International (TIB) urged President Abdul Hamid not to consent to it and resend the bill to parliament in line with article 80 (3) of the constitution to reconsider some controversial and risky sections of the bill.
According to Article 80 (3) of the constitution, the President has 15 days to resend the bill to parliament from the day a bill is placed before him. It is his sole discretion whether he exercises this power or not.
If the president exercises this authority, parliament would consider the bill together with his message.
The anti-graft watchdog mentioned that some sections of the act go against the main spirit of the country’s Liberation War and constitution.
The concern and opinion of stakeholders including journalists, owners of media houses, and rights activists, regarding some of the act’s sections like 8, 28, 29 and 31 have been ignored, which will pose a serious threat to independent journalism, reads the statement issued by TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman.
Besides, the act has been incorporated renaming the offence of digital spying under section 32 and incorporating the Official Secrets Act, 1923, which may create a corruption-friendly atmosphere, he said in the statement.
Though the act is being treated as time-worthy in the short-term, it will prove to be suicidal in the long-term, Iftekharuzzaman added.
In a separate statement, rights organization Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) said the Digital Security Act was enacted keeping different aspects of Section 57 to shrink freedom of expression. ASK also said that Section 32 of the Digital Security Act is contradictory to freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of press guaranteed in the constitution.
The much-talked-about Digital Security Bill 2018 was passed in parliament on Wednesday evening, ignoring the concerns of journalists, owners of media houses, and rights activists, with regard to some of its sections.