The Editors’ Council on Thursday at a meeting conveyed their concerns to the government over Digital Security Bill 2018, demanding removal of some provisions that were undemocratic and would curtail freedom of expression and press.
The organisation of editors of the country’s national dailies, made the demand at a meeting with law minister Anisul Huq at his ministry.
‘Sections 21, 25, 28, 31, 32 and 43 of the bill are directly against the freedom of expression and will hamper freedom of the press as well,’ Editors’ Council general secretary Mahfuz Anam told reporters after the meeting.
He said that a comprehensive law was needed to contain cyber crimes at a time when online media was going uncontrolled, but in no way such law should affect freedom of the press, said Mahfuz Anam, also the Daily Star editor.
Anisul said that the digital security bill, already placed in parliament, was now with the parliamentary standing committee on ICT ministry for scrutiny.
He assured the editors that he would convey their concerns to the standing committee and request it to invite the council to its meeting on the bill scheduled for April 22.
‘Their concerns largely seemed logical,’ he said.
The law minister expressed hope that the ambiguities in the provisions and the council’s concerns would be addressed through discussions.
He said that the objective of the proposed law was to check cybercrimes, not to curb freedom of the press.
Posts, telecommunication and information technology minister Mustafa Jabbar, state minister for information and communication technology Zunaid Ahmed Palak and senior officials concerned were also present.
News Today editor Reazuddin Ahmed, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman, Financial Express editor AHM Moazzem Hossain, Naya Diganta editor Alamgir Mahiuddin, Inquilab editor AMM Bahauddin, Kaler Kantha editor Imdadul Haque Milon, Bangladesh Protidin editor Nayeem Nizam, acting Sangbad editor Khandaker Muniruzzaman, acting Jugantor editor Saiful Alam, Banik Barta editor Dewan Hanif Mahmud and New Age editor Nurul Kabir attended the meeting.
The government on April 9 tabled the much-talked-about Digital Security Bill 2018 in parliament, amidst outcries from the journalist community to abolish provisions having wider scope of interpretation, under which many, including journalists, were prosecuted for Facebook posts and news reports.
The cabinet on January 29 gave approval to Digital Security Bill incorporating undemocratic Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006, which would curb the freedom of expression.
The bill stipulates maximum 14 years of imprisonment and Tk 1 crore in fine for spreading propaganda against the country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the 1971 Liberation War through electronic media or any other digital device.
The same punishment was also proposed for ‘cyber-terrorism’ affecting the country’s integrity and sovereignty, which the editors found not well-defined.
According to the Section 57 of the ICT law, any person may be jailed for 7-14 years for deliberately publishing any material in electronic form that causes deterioration of law and order, prejudices the image of the state or person or hurts religious belief.
Section 31 of the bill says that if any person or group deliberately publishes or transmits on a website or in any other electronic form any material which creates enmity and hatred among different sections or communities or hurts communal harmony, or creates instability or anarchy or the possibility of deterioration in law and order, s/he may be punished with a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment or a fine of Tk 5 lakh or both.
Section 28 of the bill says that if any person or group deliberately publishes or transmits on a website or in any other electronic form any material which hurts anyone’s religious sentiment, they will face a maximum jail term of seven years or a fine of Tk10 lakh or both.
Section 32 of the bill says that if any person keeps, sends or preserves any secret information by intruding into any government, semi-government, autonomous or statutory body through computers, digital machines, computer or digital networks or any electronic medium, s/he may be punished with a maximum jail term of 14 years or a fine of Tk 25 lakh or both.
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