Jatiya Sangsad on Wednesday passed the much-talked about Digital Security Bill ignoring the concern expressed by different national and international quarters, including journalists, on eight sections.
Posts, telecommunication and information technology minister Mustafa Jabbar placed the bill for immediate passage and the sitting with speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in the chair passed the bill by voice votes, rejecting all but one proposals for amendment.
The minister accepted only one proposal moved by Jatiya Party lawmaker Fakhrul Imam for amendment to Section 43.
According to the amendment, law enforcers would need no permission from the Digital Security Agency director general, as proposed in the bill, for arresting or searching anyone or any place and seizing anything on suspicion without any warrant or order of any court.
Jatiya Party lawmakers, including Fakhrul Imam, Nurul Islam Omar, Nure Hasna Lily Chowdhury, Mahjabeen Morshed, Selim Uddin, Shamim Haider Patwari, termed the bill crucial.
They said that some sections of the bill would greatly infringe the freedom of speech.
They proposed that the bill should be sent back to the parliamentary standing committee concerned and further public opinions should be solicited.
The Editors’ Council on Sunday in a statement rejected the bill as Sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32 and 43 of the bill posed serious threats to freedom of expression and media.
The minister, however, claimed in parliament, ‘This law is not for controlling the media rather to control
crimes through digital devices.’
Section 32(1) of the bill said that any individual would be punished with imprisonment for 14 years or a fine of Tk 25 lakh or both for committing any offence under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 through any digital device.
Section 32(2) said that any individual would be punished with imprisonment for life term or a fine of Tk 1 crore or both for repeating the offence.
Section 21(2) stipulated that anyone ‘spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation, National Anthem and national flag’ using digital devices or instigating to do so would be punished with imprisonment for 10 years or a fine up to Tk 1 crore or both.
Any repetition of the offence would punishable with jail for life term or a fine of Tk 3 crore of both, stipulated Section 21(3).
According to Section 25, a person may be punished with jail for three years or a fine of Tk 3 lakh or both for deliberately publishing or broadcast on a website or in electronic form something attacking or intimidating or which can make someone feel disgruntled or knowingly publishing or broadcasting false and distorted (full or partial) information to annoy or humiliate someone or knowingly publishing or broadcasting false and distorted (full or partial) information to tarnish the image of the state or to spread rumours.
Any repetition of the offence would warrant up to five years in jail or Tk 10 lakh in fine or both, it said.
As per the bill, digital forensic labs and a Digital Security Agency under the prime minister’s office will be set up while a national computer emergency response team and an 11-member Digital Security Council, headed by the prime minister, will be constituted.
The much-debated Digital Security Bill was tabled in parliament on April 9 amid growing concerns from journalists and rights activists over some contents of the law.
Amid concerns expressed by journalists, the parliamentary standing committee first invited the stakeholders on May 22 to have their views on the bill.
Attending the meeting, journalist leaders voiced concern over section 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, and 43 of the bill.
They said these sections would greatly hamper the freedom of speech.
Their suggestions on the bill and on those sections in particular were, however, ignored by the standing committee, the Editors’ Council said in the release on September 16.
The statement said that the Editors’ Council was forced to reject the JS body report and the Digital Security Bill because ‘it is opposed to the guarantees of freedom of expression and freedom of the press by the Constitution in Articles 39(2) A and B’, ‘it is opposed to the idea of freedom of thoughts and independence of media as enshrined in the spirit of our Liberation War,’ ‘it is opposed to the basic practice of democracy that Bangladesh has always fought and stood for,’ and ‘it is opposed to the fundamental principles of journalism and freedom of the media that journalists in Bangladesh have struggled for.’
It said that the council recalled that the editors had a meeting with the law minister in the presence of the ICT minister during which both the ministers assured them that measures would be taken to mitigate their concerns.
‘We also recall with gratitude that the aforementioned JS Standing Committee met with the representatives of the Editors’ Council, the BFUJ and the ATCO over two sittings during which we showed how the draft law stifles media freedom, a prerequisite for any democracy. The JS committee was supposed to meet with us once more before finalising its report but the meeting never took place,’ the statement said.
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