Ministers defend Digital Security Bill as others for dropping repressive sections

Mohiuddin Alamgir and Ahammad Foyez | Published: 00:00, Oct 05,2018 | Updated: 00:31, Oct 05,2018


Passage of the Digital Security Bill by Parliament drew huge criticism from journalists and freethinkers.
In a series of interviews with Mohiuddin Alamgir and Ahammad Foyez they said, there is no alternative to dropping the repressive sections that come into conflict with fundamental rights and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution.
New Age also took the views of two ministers they expressed to reporters about the objectives of the bill.
The ministers said that bill seeks to curb digital and cybercrimes that it was not designed to hamper freedom of press and expression.
They also said that they will take up the concerns expressed by journalists about the bill in the cabinet meeting for further discussion.
Journalist leaders threatened tougher action programmes if their concerns were not addressed.

Editors’ Council general secretary and The Daily Star editor and publisher Mahfuz Anam

We expressed concern about the bill as it breaches fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution. It is against the freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the spirit of the Liberation War, democracy and the ethics of journalism.
We published a write-up with section by section analysis of the bill that obstruct freedom. We call upon all including journalist to read it and decide whether or not the bill is good for country.
Before the bill was passed we sat twice with Parliamentary Standing Committee for the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications, and Information Communication Technology. It was decided that a third meeting will be held for further discussion which did not take place.
The big question is why the third meeting did not take place. One day we saw that the bill was sent to Parliament.
But we are hopeful that our concern will be addressed by revising the bill through discussions.
The Editors’ Council is cautious about the bill. We think a modern law is needed for digital security which should not stand against the freedom of press and journalism.

Journalist Mahfuz Ullah

The bill will turn into a serious impediment for investigative journalism while police will become more arrogant.
The government passed the Digital Security Bill at the eleventh hour of its second consecutive term as it needed to control all the media including mass media and social media as the next general election is knocking at the door.
The government might have a fear that people will become more vocal in social media against them during the election period. There are several issues which will damage the image of the government if it goes
The government is in haste to enact such a bill to use it as a weapon after it has been observed that social media played a big role in last US general election.
The government is also trying to create an environment of psychological fear among the citizens before the election to accomplish the polls journey

Information minister Hasanul Haq Inu

Discussions are on with the journalist and the Editors’ Council. We are listening to their opinion and suggestions. So far, they raised objections regarding some sections out of fears that they could impede and interfere with their work.
We have taken note of their concerns and we will take them up in cabinet meeting and after getting the cabinet’s directive we will start the next round of discussions.
The objective of the bill is curbing digital and cybercrimes. By no means the bill is against the people or the media. Our prime minister Sheikh Hasina is a firm believer in freedom of press and security of media people. She is committed to create a safe digital platform by curbing cybercrimes as well as ensuring security of media people. We are reviewing the matter keeping the prime minister’s policy framework in the mind.
But it is also important to see whether or not the bill could impede journalism.

Law minister Anisul Haq

The country needs a digital security law. But there are also questions that the law should not gag freedom of press and expression.
Objections have been raised about sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43 and 53 which were discussed at meetings. Everyone is speaking about nine sections but not about the rest.
Since the bill has been passed by Parliament, I along with the ministers for information and ICT expect to place the objections in the next cabinet after October 3 in which there would be too many agendas. After discussions at the cabinet meeting we will get the terms of reference for holding meeting with the editors to resolve the issue through discussions according to the TOR.

TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman

We think that any bid to gag freedom of expression and speech in the name of digital security is suicidal and undemocratic. We urge the government to refrain from taking any such move.
The assurances given by ministers at their meeting with the Editors’ Council that further discussions would be held in the cabinet over the bill brought some relief but concerns persist among the stakeholders about whether their concerns would be addressed.
We demand that the government should drop the repressive sections in the bill as they are against the Constitution and spirit of the Liberation War. Partial revision of the bill would not be able to remove the concerns that the bill could be misused.

Dhaka University mass communication and journalism professor Mofizur Rahman

Parliament passed the bill ignoring the opinions of the stakeholders including the journalists which was very unfortunate. Several sections of the Digital Security Bill 2018 could be used to control investigative journalism.
It would affect journalism. Government officials would be scared to provide information and data to journalists. But corrupt public servants would enjoy protection as the bill would shield their misdeeds.
A digital security law is needed to curb cybercrimes but the government should make the law by keeping the process of free access of information unaffected.
Incorporation of the objectionable provisions in the Official Secrets Act in the bill would impede journalism. The government should revise the bill to exempt journalists
from it.

Dhaka University professor and former information commissioner Sadeka Halim

The bill contradicts the Constitution and the Right to Information Act. The government owes clarification to the nation about the sections in the bill that created a huge public concern.
Incorporation of certain sections from the British colonial era’s Official Secrets Act 1923 is not at all acceptable after even the British government repealed the law as it comes into conflict with Freedom of
No modern country ever took the move to make a law to curb freedom of speech. I urge the government not make such law contrary to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

Communist Party of Bangladesh general secretary Md Shah Alam

Aim of the bill is to snatch away people’s right to expression and speech. None, journalists, freethinkers, politicians, critics will be spared. The ruling class will use the bill against people of the country.
We have seen how the sections 57 of the ICT act and other black laws have been used against people by the ruling classes like Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party, when they were in power.
The government kept the controversial article 57 in subtle ways in the digital security bill although people of the country raised huge objection against the section of the ICT act. They did it even bypassing and ignoring stakeholders concern and suggestions.
Moreover colonial period Office Secrets Act has been incorporated in the bill, empowering police to arrest, seize anything without warrant. Journalist and freethinkers of the country will face harm and harassment if the bill is turned into law and comes into effect.

Lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua

People will face multifarious problems. Criminalisation of acts in the bill is not specific as is the case with ICT act. There are some vague terms like ‘image’ ‘state image’, ‘true’ and ‘false’, ‘obscene’ and others as there are in ICT act. All these are subjective matter.
People should have similar fear as journalists have.
The government’s claim that the bill is meant to curb digital and cybercrime is really pleasing to ear but the reality as different. Our objection is that India and Pakistan has almost similar laws in their country. In Pakistan highest punishment is three month, in India it is three years whereas in Bangladesh it is life imprisonment.
You should keep in mind that Bangladesh has set up the biggest jail in South Asia and if you make this kind of law to fill it, then it is ok.
Digital law is needed to enable, empower and protect people but sending to jail for saying something is not protection.
There are some others things that are missing from the bill. Cyber bullying and harassment of women and children have not been addressed in the bill.
The bill also proposes to make a digital security agency but it does not define their jobs. The bill says that the agency’s job will be defined by rule which is dangerous as authorities can change it with time and as per their need.

Dhaka Reporters Unity president Saiful Islam

Some sections in the Digital Security Bill have created fear and concern among working journalists about their freedom and security. We want that no journalist should face any kind of obstruction while performing their duties. We want safety of journalists.
We raised concern about sections like 8,32 and 43 in the bill. The scope of repression against journalists has been created by incorporation of Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act as well as the draconian provisions in Official Secrets Act of the British colonial era.
Incorporating provisions of arrest without warrant and seizing digital devices in the section 43 is of prime concern.
There is a provision of taking prior approval before investigating an allegation against government officials.
In the event that there are allegations any journalist of flouting digital security there should be provision of taking prior approval from council and broadcasting commission to start the investigation.
We hope that all sorts of obstructions to journalism would be removed through discussions. Otherwise, we will start a movement.

Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists faction president Molla Jalal

Our main concern is that there are sections that could be used against journalism. We want a law that in no way could be used against working journalists. It is the responsibility of those who made the bill should find out and revise the sections that could obstruct working journalists from performing their professional
We know that cabinet members assured us that further discussions would be held to address our concerns. If the bill contains any provision that threatens press freedom after the proposed discussion in cabinet, we would launch a tougher movement.

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