The misuse of the Digital Security Act, which has been wielded as a tool to deprive the public of their constitutional right to information through free thought and expression, is growing alarmingly. According to the annual report of the UK-based organisation Article 19, a total of 198 cases, accusing 457 people, have been filed under this act in Bangladesh in 2020. As many as 75 professional journalists have been accused in 41 cases. In the previous year, 2019, the total number of cases filed under the act was 63.

The international media writes, ‘Digital Highway Becomes Digital Jail,’ criticizing the harassment of citizens including journalists, teachers, cultural activists, cartoonists and dissidents on social media through the widespread misuse of this law in Bangladesh. Of the 75 journalists charged under the Digital Security Act last year, 32 were arrested.

The Digital Security Act enacted in 2018 in the face of strong criticism and protests against the widespread harassment of citizens, including journalists, through the arbitrary misuse of Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act has become a major obstacle to professional journalism and independent expression of citizens in Bangladesh. There had been widespread protest across the country against the enactment of the law, warning the government that the current law, which is stricter than the previous one, will be widely abused. As a result, people’s right to information will be damaged and civil liberties will be curtailed.

We demanded that the law be amended to ensure the protection of the right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in our constitution. But the government did not pay heed. On the contrary, those who are trying to suppress dissent and block the way of independent journalism by abusing this law, are associated with the ruling politics. Of the 198 cases filed under the law in 2020, 19 were filed by ruling party MPs themselves or their close associates.

Most of the citizens who have been and are being victimised by the Digital Security Act including journalists, writers and cartoonists, are being unjustly deprived of their right to bail. It has been alleged that some people have been remanded and tortured physically and mentally.

Many international organisations, including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists, and Amnesty International, have criticised the misuse of digital security act in Bangladesh. The High Court has asked the government to explain why Sections 25 and 31 of the Digital Security Act should not be considered unconstitutional. But the government has so far shown no cause for this, and the abuse of those two sections of the law, in particular, continues to grow.

As we have said many times before, many sections of the Digital Security Act are contrary to the basic spirit and expression of the constitution of Bangladesh, free flow of information and various international laws and provisions relating to fundamental human rights. Immediate steps should be taken to amend the law in accordance with the constitution and international law by repealing those sections.

Source: https://en.prothomalo.com/opinion/editorial/digital-security-act-must-be-amended

Updated On:  25 February 2021

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