Three ministers on Sunday said that concerns expressed by journalists, including editors, over the Digital Security Bill would be taken into consideration and placed before a cabinet meeting for discussion.
After separate meetings with Editors’ Council and journalist bodies at secretariat, law minister Anisul Huq and information minister Hasanul Haq Inu made the assurance in presence of posts, telecommunications, and information technology minister Mostafa Jabbar, who piloted the bill that was passed by parliament on September 19.
At a briefing, they said that they would again sit with the editors after discussion at cabinet meeting to address the concern through dialogues.
Journalist leaders threaten tougher protests if objected sections remained in the proposed legislation that might curb freedom of media after the proposed discussion in the cabinet.
The government arranged the meetings as the Editor’s Council called a human chain protesting at the bill. Editors’ Council postponed the human chain, scheduled for Saturday, accepting the information minister’s request for talks.
Editor’s Council general secretary Mahfuz Anam welcomed the government’s initiative for discussion on the bill.
He said that they raised concern about the bill as it breached fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. It was against the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, spirit of the Liberation War, democracy and ethics of journalism.
‘We have published writing in newspapers analysing the sections of proposed law section that obstruct the freedom,’ said Mahfuz Anam, also the Daily Star editor.
Law minister Anisul Huq said that the editors raised objections to Sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43 and 53 and their objections were discussed in the meeting.
‘Since the bill was passed by the parliament, I along with information and ICT ministers will place the objections before the cabinet,’ he said.
‘There are too many agendas in the next cabinet meeting on October 3 and we hope that we will be able to place the objections in the next one after October 3,’ he said.
‘After the discussion at cabinet, we will hold meeting with editors again to resolve the issue through discussions,’ he said.
Editors’ Council observed that Section 8 of the bill, which proposed to empower authorities and law enforcers to remove or block certain information and data, was a threat to digital security and would hit the heart of publication either in print or online. Any report may be blocked or a photograph may be confiscated that may lead to disruption of any media outlet.
Section 43 says that if a police official believes that an offence under the law has been or is being committed at a certain place, or there is a possibility of committing crimes or destroying evidence, the official can search the place or any person there and arrest the person without any warrant issued by a court.
Editors’ Council termed the section the ‘most dangerous of the provisions’ of the bill that would empower the police to enter any premises, search any computer system, seize any computer network and its servers, bodily search anybody and also arrest anybody on suspicion.
Section 32(1) 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.
Editor council said that this was a sweeping restrictive law from the colonial times that was promulgated to protect the British administration from any sort of accountability. It is shocking to see it being incorporated for digital platforms. Anything that is not made public by the government is deemed an ‘Official secret’, it said.
According to Section 29, a person may face up to three years in jail or a fine of Tk 5 lakh or both for offences stipulated in Section 499 of the Penal Code through a website or in electronic form.
As a law already exists to deal with defamation, a separate law for digital media is not needed and there is no logic for any enhanced penalty for digital media from print media for the same crime.
Section 31 says that a person may face up to seven years in prison or Tk 5 lakh in fine or both for deliberately publishing or broadcasting something on a website or in electronic form which can spread hatred and create enmity among different groups and communities, and can cause deterioration in law and rder.
The council said that any news about discrimination against Dalits, or ethnic groups and exploitation of disadvantaged groups might be interpreted as causing disaffection between different groups.
Information minister Hasanul Haq Inu thanked the editors for sitting with him to discuss their concerns.
He said that prime minister Sheikh Hasina was pledged bound to ensure democracy and freedom of press and ensure security
of media people. He also said that the proposed law was yet to be sent to the president’s office for his assent.
Prime minister’s media adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury at the meeting said that he cannot refute the chance of curtailing of freedom of press by the bill.
News Today founding editor Reazuddin Ahmed, Manabzamin editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman, New Age editor Nurul Kabir, Kaler Kantho editor Imdadul Haq Milan, Bangladesh Pratidin editor Naem Nizam, Daily Inqilab editor AMM Bahauddin, Independent editor M Shamsur Rahman, Jugantor acting editor Saiful Alam, Bonik Barta editor Dewan Hanif Mahmud, Dhaka Tribune editor Zafar Sobhan and Samakal acting editor Mustafiz Shafi attended the meeting with the minister that lasted for about three hours.
Leaders of fractions of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists, Dhaka Union of Journalists along with Dhaka Reporters Unity also held meeting with the cabinet members in the afternoon.
Information minister after the meeting reiterated that the concerns expressed by the journalist bodies would be placed before the cabinet.
Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists faction president Molla Jalal and Dhaka Reporters Unity president Saiful Islam
said that if the law contained any provision threatening press freedom and professionalism of journalists after the proposed discussion in cabinet, they would launch tougher movement.
National and international rights groups continued protesting against the bill saying that it would gag freedom of expression and press and demanded that the government must scrap or reconsider the bill.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Country