Journalists should not be made victims of Cyber Security Act


Bangladesh government on August 7, 2023 announced its decision to replace the draconian Digital Security Act, which has been routinely used to criminalize journalists.

Following this announcement, Beh Lih Yi, Asia program coordinator of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a statement said, “This is a step in the right direction, but the devil is in the details. It will be meaningless if the Bangladesh government replaces the Digital Security Act with another oppressive law that continues to target journalists in retaliation for their reporting. The government must ensure that journalists are fully consulted in drafting the new Cyber Security Act and that it complies with international human rights laws.

Under the proposed new law, journalists would face fines, rather than jail sentences, for defamation, and suspects would receive bail, Law Minister Anisul Huq said, according to news reports. Many sections of the Digital Security Act are likely to be incorporated in the new law, while sections that can be misused will be omitted, he said.

More than 7,000 cases have been filed under the act since it was introduced in 2018. Journalists have faced arrest, enforced disappearance, and alleged torture in state custody in retaliation for their reporting on topics including governmental policies, alleged corruption, and allegedly illicit business practices.

CPJ has repeatedly called for the suspension of the law, along with journalists and human rights groups. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called for its immediate suspension in March, saying it had been used to “muzzle critical voices online”.

Meanwhile, Biden administration has welcomed Bangladesh government’s decision to change the controversial Digital Security Act, which has long been criticized for its abuse to “muzzle dissent and free speech”.

US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller gave his reaction after the Bangladesh government approved a proposal to change the law by reducing jail terms or in some cases replacing them with fines.

The law had been used to “arrest, detain and silence critics”, he told reporters, according to Reuters.

“We encourage the government of Bangladesh to give all stakeholders an opportunity to review and provide input on the new draft Cyber Security Act to ensure it meets international standards”, Miller said.

After a meeting with former UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet in August 2022, Law Minister Anisul Huq said they had discussed the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in jail custody. He died in February 2021 after his arrest in a case under the Digital Security Act.

Amnesty International in a statement has welcomed the decision of the Bangladesh government to repeal the Digital Security Act.

It said, the government must ensure that the Cyber Security Act it plans to replace DSA with does not rehash the same repressive features of the DSA.

The government must also ensure that all stakeholders have sufficient opportunity to scrutinize and make recommendations on the proposed new law before it is enacted and that its provisions fully comply with international human rights law, Amnesty International said.

“We also urge the Bangladeshi authorities to immediately and unconditionally release and drop all charges against all those charged under the DSA solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression”, it added.

Whatever may be the reaction from rights groups and the international community, including the United States, it is evidently clear that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is unwilling to let any law be used against journalists in the country. It may be mentioned here that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has a reputation of being extremely supportive to freedom of press and freedom of expression, while it is widely expected that following the upcoming general elections in the country, she will take several key measures in ensuring rule of law, human rights and good governance.


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