South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The rights body wants to see that the law provides for checks and balances against arbitrary arrest, detention, and other undue restrictions of the rights of individuals

The United Nations Human Rights has urged Bangladesh to urgently revise the recently passed Digital Security Act, to ensure that it is in line with international human rights law.

The rights body says it wants to see that the law provides for checks and balances against arbitrary arrest, detention, and other undue restrictions of the rights of individuals to the legitimate exercise of their freedom of expression and opinion.

“We stand ready to assist the government,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN high commissioner for human rights, told reporters in Geneva.

The Digital Security Act was signed into law on Monday, despite wide-ranging concerns that its provisions and scope could seriously impede the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and opinion, as well as the rights to liberty of the person and to due process of law.

“The act could have a severe impact on the work of journalists, bloggers, commentators and historians but also penalizes the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression by any other individual, including on social media,” said Shamdasani.

She said that the law contained vague provisions that would impose long prison sentences of up to seven years or a fine for online speech that disturbs the law and order situation, affects religious feelings or ruins communal harmony.

Shamdasani said: “The act gives the police wide powers of search and arrest without warrant. Many of the offences in the Act are unbailable. This is of particular concern given concerns about due process in Bangladesh.”

The act also provides broad powers to the government to restrict and intercept digital information, she added.

“The law as it stands does not meet Bangladesh’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including provisions to respect and protect the right to be free from arbitrary arrest under Article 9; to protection from interference with privacy and correspondence under Article 17, and to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 19.”

During its Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council on September 20, the Bangladesh government had agreed to recommendations relating to the freedom of expression and to bringing national legislation into compliance with its international obligations, she said.

“However, despite pledges to revisit the problematic provisions of the act, it was signed into law yesterday (Monday),” Shamdasani added.

President Md Abdul Hamid had assented to the much-talked-about Digital Security Bill 2018 on Monday.

Amid concerns from various quarters, parliament had passed the bill 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 the Editors’ Council, 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.


Updated On: October 9th, 2018