Newspaper editors will form a human chain in front of the National Press Club 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 newspaper editors, announced the programme at a press conference at the press club, demanding amendment to Sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43 and 53 of the act in the last session of the present parliament, which would begin on October 21.
The council had called the human chain for September 29 but postponed it at the request of information minister Hasanul Haq Inu.
Inu told New Age on Saturday that the prime minister was informed about the concerns of the editors and the concerns would be discussed in the cabinet soon.
‘We will discuss our next course of action,’ Bangla daily Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamal Dutta said announcing that they would from the human chain at 11:00am on Monday.
Editors’ Council general secretary Mahfuz Anam, also the Daily Star editor and publisher, said that they also thought that an acceptable law was needed for cyber security
‘We have never rejected the law but expressed concern and demanded amendment to certain sections that seriously harm the cause of independent journalism and freedom of expression,’ he added.
Shyamal Dutta read out the written statement, which put forward seven-point demands, including amendment to the nine sections of the law.
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.
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.
The council at the news conference on Saturday demanded that the nine sections of the act must be amended in the last session of the present parliament to safeguard freedom of the media and freedom of expression.
The council demanded that while searching any media institution, the law enforcers should only be permitted to block specific content but not to shut down any computer system. In blocking content, they should do so only after discussion with the editor with reasonable proof of why such content should be blocked.
The council said that in blocking or confiscating any computer system of a media house, a High Court order must be obtained.
It said 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 said 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.
The council also said 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.
In trying to make a law to prevent crimes through digital devices and provide security in the digital sphere, the act ends up policing media operations, censoring content and controlling media freedom and freedom of speech and expression, the council said.
The act gives unlimited power to the police to enter premises, search offices, bodily search individuals, seize computers, computer networks, servers, and everything related to the digital platform.
According to the act, the police can arrest anybody on suspicion without warrant and do not need any approval of any authorities.
The Act suffers from vagueness and uses many terms that can be misinterpreted and used against media, said the Editors’ Council.
The Act will create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which will make journalism, especially investigative journalism, virtually impossible. In addition to media professionals, the law will create panic among all users of computers and computer networks and et cetera, it said.
‘We express our disappointment, regret and shock that the anti-free press and anti-free speech draconian Digital Security Act has been signed into law in spite of our fundamental objection and repeated protests and several engagements with the government and two sittings with parliamentary standing committee,’ said the council statement.
‘We further express our surprise that nothing was done in spite of public commitment by three ministers and media advisor to the prime minister to raise our concern to the cabinet and open a dialogue with the stakeholders to work out acceptable changes in the Digital Security Act,’ it said.
‘Regrettably, no such efforts were made, nor were we extended the courtesy of being informed by any of the ministers as to why they failed to keep their promise,’ said the statement.
The above account amply proves that the council has cooperated fully with the government and parliament to make a law that was acceptable to all stakeholders. ‘All our efforts at cooperation failed,’ the council said.
‘We consider it to be a breach of trust that the Sampadak Parishad [Editors’ Council] had reposed on the three ministers.’
After a meeting with Editors’ Council at secretariat on September 30, law minister Anisul Huq and information minister Hasanul Haq Inu, in presence of posts, telecommunications, and information technology minister Mostafa Jabbar and prime minister’s media adviser Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, assured that they would place the editors’ concerns before the cabinet.
Law minister had said they would again sit with the editors after discussion at cabinet meeting to address the concern through dialogues.
The government arranged the meetings as the Editor’s Council called a human chain protesting at the bill on September 29. Editors’ Council postponed the human chain, accepting the information minister’s request for talks over their concerns.
Editors’ Council in their statement on Saturday said that from the outset they expressed their concern about the nine sections of the bill that would ‘seriously harm’ the cause of independent journalism and freedom of expression.
Editors’ Council on several occasions met law and ICT ministers and were assured of due consideration. When the bill was scrutinised by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Post, Telecommunication and ICT, the representatives of Editors’ Council and Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists and Association of Television Channel Owners were invited and they had two meetings.
‘In these meetings, we raised our objections point by point and shared our concerns in details,’ said the council statement, adding, ‘the promise of third meeting, which might have helped to reach agreements on many important points, was not met for reasons still unknown to us.’
The standing committee completed the scrutiny of the bill and placed its report in the parliament with recommendation for its passage without meeting any of the basic demands, the statement said.
‘It was passed without any significant changes that could have addressed the main concerns of the journalists, especially dealing with media freedom and freedom of speech,’ the statement said.
‘In fact, a last minute change was brought about further strengthened the hands of police to enter newspaper offices and media establishments, search, block and confiscate digital networks and even to arrest journalists without warrant,’ it added.
Editors’ Council said that after the bill was passed they decided to form a human chain which was postponed at the request of information minister in which the minister promised to bring law and the ICT minister for discussion and the council responded to the request.
After a meeting on September 30 three ministers publicly committed to the council to take its concern in the cabinet and create a way for further discussion on the issue but it did not happened till the date.
The council said that the digital security law was against fundamental rights guaranteed in the article 39(2)(a) and (b) of 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.
The law was against the fundamental values of ethical and independent journalism, spirit and purpose of Right to Information Act.
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, Naya Diganta editor Alamgir Mohiuddin, Karatoa editor Mozammel Haque, 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, Banik Barta editor Dewan Hanif Mahmud and Financial Express acting editor Shahiduzzaman Khan also attended the press conference.
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