Newspaper editors in an unprecedented move formed a human chain on Monday protesting against the Digital Security Act and demanding immediate amendment to the newly enacted law to ensure the freedom of expression and media.
The Editors’ Council, association of the editors of national dailies, at the human chain in front of National Press Club demanded amendment to Sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43 and 53 of the act in the next and last session of the present parliament.
‘We hope that the government will accept our demand and amend the act in the next parliamentary session, which will be the last session of the current parliament,’ Editors’ Council general secretary Mahfuz Anam said at the human chain.
The act should be amended in such a way so that it can be acceptable to all, said Mahfuz Anam, also the Daily Star editor and publisher.
The last session of the current is scheduled for October 21 to begin.
The editors of national dailies for the first time in Bangladesh took to the street standing in the human chain for 10 minutes holding a banner for repeal of the sections of the act that threatened the freedom of expression and media.
‘Neither print nor television nor online media will be able to perform their professional duties with freedom if the law exists in its current form,’ Mahfuz Anam said, reading out the statement of the council.
He reiterated their seven point demands, including amendment to the nine sections of the act in the next parliamentary session.
The council demanded that while searching any media institution, the law enforcers might be permitted to block only specific content but not to shut down any computer system. In blocking content, they must do so only after proving the justification for such blocking in discussion with the editor.
The council said that in blocking or confiscating any computer system of a media house, a court order must be obtained.
It demanded that in case of offences relating to performance of journalistic duty by media professionals, they must be summoned and under no circumstances media professionals be detained or arrested without warrant and due process of law.
The council demanded that in instances of offences made by media professionals, it should be routed through the Press Council to establish a prima facie case. For this purpose, the Press Council may be strengthened appropriately.
It also demanded that the primacy of the Right to Information Act, passed by the incumbent government, should unequivocally established above the Digital Security Act, and all freedom and rights granted under that law to citizens and the media must be protected.
Mentioning law minister’s comment that the door for the discussion [on council’s demands and concerns] was not closed, Mahfuz Anam said, ‘We are happy that door for discussion is open, but we don’t want discussion for the sake of discussion only. There should be no farce in the name of discussion.’
Law minister Anisul Huq made the comment as the Editors’ Council at a press conference on Saturday said that ministers failed to keep their promise to place the editors’ concerns before the cabinet.
After a meeting with Editors’ Council at secretariat on September 30, Anisul Huq and information minister Hasanul Haq Inu, in presence of post, telecommunications and ICT minister Mostafa Jabbar and prime minister’s media adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, assured that they would place the editors’ concerns before the cabinet.
Anisul Huq had also that they would again sit with the editors after discussion in the cabinet to address the concerns through dialogues.
The government arranged the meetings as the Editor’s Council called a human chain protesting at the digital security bill for September 29. Editors’ Council postponed the programme, accepting the information minister’s request for talks.
Inu said on Saturday that editors’ concerns over the Digital Security Act would be placed before the cabinet soon while Anisul Huq said that time was still there to keep his words.
Among others, Manabzamin editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman, New Age editor Nurul Kabir, Bangladesh Pratidin editor Naem Nizam, Kaler Kantho editor Imdadul Haq Milan, Independent editor M Shamsur Rahman, Daily Inqilab editor AMM Bahauddin, Dhaka Tribune editor Zafar Sobhan, Samakal acting editor Mustafiz Shafi, Sangbad acting editor Khandaker Muniruzzaman, Jugantor acting editor Saiful Alam and Banik Barta editor Dewan Hanif Mahmud joined the human chain.
Founded in 2013, Editors’ Council is vocal against the Digital Security Act, since the bill was placed in the parliament. The council said that the law was against fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution.
It was also against the spirit of freedom enshrined in the Liberation War, democracy and democratic governance and rights gained through the struggle at various stages of country’s history, the council said.
Jatiya Sangsad on September 19 passed the Digital Security Bill, ignoring the concerns expressed by different national and international quarters including the Editors’ Council as it posed threats to freedom of speech and the press.
President Abdul Hamid on October 8 assented to the Digital Security Bill transforming it into an act, ignoring calls from national and international journalists, freethinkers and rights groups for returning it to parliament for a revision.
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