‘Law needs to be amended to ensure that it is not used to suppress the media and free-spirited writers’
The Editors Council (Sampadak Parishad) on Saturday called for immediate measures to act upon the law minister’s assurance that the Digital Security Act would be reviewed.
Law Minister Anisul Huq in a recent interview with the BBC said the law would be reviewed and if a case was filed under the Digital Security Act, no arrest would be made before an investigation.
Appreciating the minister’s announcement, the Council in a statement demanded that steps be taken to make the law minister’s statement legally effective. “We call for a necessary ordinance or legal initiative in this regard.”
Journalists and free speech advocates were being continuously harassed and tortured through the enforcement of the Digital Security Act, it said.
“It will not be an overstatement to say that in some cases, the Digital Security Act is being implemented more harshly than we fear. Mushtaq Ahmed, a free-spirited writer, proved that with his death.”
Thanking the court for granting cartoonist Kishore bail , the Council said: “However, the brutal treatment of journalists and writers by law enforcers after arresting them in Digital Security Act cases is highly undesirable.
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“It is to be noted that journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol had remained missing and in jail for a long time for sharing an article on social media. Although he was later granted bail, the cases against him are still ongoing. Kajol, who is now financially, physically and mentally devastated, has to deal with them. Moreover, the case against Kishore, who has become unwell both mentally and physically, is ongoing as well.”
The Editors Council said it had recommended amending the Digital Security Act earlier by specifying the objectionable sections in it. “If they had been taken into consideration, today's situation might not have arisen.”
The Council is also concerned by the fact that out of 20 clauses of the law relating to crime and punishment, 14 are non-bailable, 5 are bailable and one is negotiable.
“This has inevitably created an atmosphere of fear, where the normal practice of journalism has become even riskier,” it said.
According to Article 19, a UK-based rights organization with a specific focus on the defence and promotion of freedom of expression, as many as 457 people were prosecuted and arrested in a total of 198 Digital Security Act cases in 2020. Of them, 75 were journalists.
“Those who commit criminal acts on digital platforms obviously need to be brought to justice. However, the law needs to be amended immediately to ensure that it is not strategically used to suppress the media and free-spirited writers,” the Editors Council remarked.
“We demand that all cases filed against journalists under the Digital Security Act be withdrawn and all newsmen and free-spirited writers arrested and jailed in such cases be immediately released,” it added.
The Council expressed its hope that the government would act prudently in this regard.