Bangladesh to amend controversial digital law by September, says minister
On World Press Freedom Day, rights associations concerned over use of Digital Security Act against journalists
Bangladesh's law minister on Wednesday said that the Digital Security Act (DSA) would be amended by this September.
“By September, we will of course try to at least amend the Digital Security Act. We are very sincere about that,” said Anisul Haq.
The minister said this in reply to a query by a journalist at a discussion titled "Shaping a Future of Rights" in the capital Dhaka on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day jointly organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
Haq added that the office of the Human Rights High Commissioner of the United Nations had sent him a technical note regarding the DSA that had been examined by the ministry.
“Of course, there have been suggestions of repealing certain sections of the DSA. But we have differences in that,” the minister said, adding that the government has no plan to repeal the law.
He, however, promised that in case of any intimidation of media or journalists under this law, he would personally handle it.
Journalists at risk
Eight international rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders, in a joint statement on Wednesday said that increasing attacks in Bangladesh on journalists and others exercising their right to freely criticize government policies and practices are alarming.
“The widespread restrictions on freedom of expression undermine the conditions for open political debate ahead of elections, scheduled for January 2024,” said the statement, adding that 56 journalists have been reportedly targeted by the government and its supporters in the first three months of 2023.
Underlining the DSA as a draconian law, the statement added: “Bangladeshi journalists are at risk of arrest under the draconian Digital Security Act (DSA) and being subjected to harassment, surveillance, and physical attacks by government supporters.”
Referring to the Dhaka-based think tank Centre for Governance Studies, the statement noted that as of early May 2023, at least 339 DSA cases had been filed against journalists since its inception in 2018.
The statement warned that the Bangladesh government’s suppression of free speech and media freedom is inconsistent with Article 39 of the country’s constitution and Article 19 of Bangladesh’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
According to the South Asia Press Freedom Report 2022-2023, released by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest organization of journalists represented by 600,000 media professionals, the DSA has been weaponized to create a culture of self-censorship in Bangladesh.
“Since its enactment, at least 3,565 people were accused in the 1,257 cases filed till Jan. 28 this year (2023),” said the report, quoting the study of the Dhaka-based think tank Centre for Governance Studies (CGS).
Citing media reports, it added that 60% of all those prosecuted in Bangladesh for “hurting religious sentiments” under the DSA belong to the minority Hindu community.
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