Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - A gag on freedom of expression in Bangladesh

A gag on freedom of expression in Bangladesh

A gag on freedom of expression in Bangladesh

by Partha Pratim Bhattacharjee, Tuhin Shubhra Adhikary

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - The freedom of the press and expression was put to the sword, journalists and rights defenders feared yesterday, as Bangladesh's cabinet approved the draft of the Digital Security Act-2018 yesterday.

There would be every chance of the act being misused against people's right to express themselves after it is passed by the Jatiya Sangsad, some observed.

They also felt duped by the government as section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act was kept in the proposed law with some changes, despite assurances in the past of eliminating the controversial provision.

Section 57 deals with defamation, hurting religious sentiments, causing deterioration of law and order and instigating against any person or organisation through publishing or transmitting any material in websites or in electronic form.

It stipulates maximum 14 years in prison for the offences.

Now, the draft of Digital Security Act-2018 splits these offences into four separate sections with punishment ranging from a three to 10 year term.

The proposed law describes some crimes as “non-bailable” and allows a police official to search or arrest anyone without a warrant in special circumstances.

A cabinet meeting, presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her office, gave the approval and Cabinet Secretary Md Shafiul Alam later briefed the media at the secretariat.

He said the government has formulated the act to combat growing cyber crimes that are affecting many public and private organisations including Bangladesh Bank.

The draft was approved keeping a provision for revoking sections 54, 55, 56, 57 and 66 of the ICT act, he said, adding that the cases already filed under section 57 will continue.

Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque, too, said the proceedings of the cases filed under section 57 will continue, reports UNB.

Currently, 701 cases filed under section 57 are pending with the lone cyber tribunal of the country, sources say.

Asked whether the proposed law will affect journalism as elements of section 57 were incorporated in the draft, the cabinet secretary did not give any direct answer and only said, “There is nothing about journalists here [in the draft].”

Rights activists and journalists have been demanding cancellation of section 57 for its widespread misuse.

Experts say the section goes against people's right to freedom of expression and free speech and it contains vague wordings, allowing its misuse against newsmen and social media users.

Protests were staged last year after more than two dozen journalists were sued under the section.

Amid widespread criticisms, Law Minister Anisul Huq on several occasions said section 57 would be removed.

Contacted last night, he said, “There is a great difference between section 57 [of ICT Act] and the provisions incorporated in the Digital Security Act.”

Asked about the criticisms from journalists and rights activists about the draft, the minister said, “They are saying this for the sake of saying something.”

He declined to comment further.

After a programme in the capital, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said section 57 was discussed for a long time in the cabinet meeting. The draft will be finalised after many inclusions and exclusions, he added.

MOST VIEWED

  • NagaWorld casinos set to reopen, schools to follow

    NAGACORP Ltd has requested that it be allowed to reopen its NagaWorld integrated resorts in Phnom Penh after the government recently approved casinos to operate again, provided they follow Covid-19 prevention measures set by the Ministry of Health. Mey Vann, the director-general of the Ministry

  • ASEM supports Kingdom’s proposal to postpone meeting amid Covid

    The 13th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM13) scheduled to be held in Cambodia in November has been postponed until mid-2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation press statement released on Saturday said. The decision was made during a two-day meeting

  • Coffee maker roasted for producing fake product

    The Ministry of Interior’s Counter Counterfeit Committee will send a suspect to court on Monday after she allegedly roasted coffee mixed with soybeans and other ingredients, creating a product which could pose a high risk to consumers’ health. On the afternoon of July 2, the

  • Cambodia armed with money laundering laws

    Money laundering will now carry a penalty of up to five years in prison while those convicted of financing terrorists will be jailed for up to 20 years, according to new laws promulgated by King Norodom Sihamoni and seen by The Post on Thursday. Comprising nine

  • Schools to be reopened in ‘three stages’

    With guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, is in the process of reopening schools in three stages. But no timeline has been set, ministry spokesperson Ros Soveacha said on Thursday. Soveacha said the first stage will be to

  • Thai border crossings eased

    The Cambodian Embassy in Thailand said in an announcement on Wednesday that Thailand’s government has allowed certain passengers from several countries to enter its borders. The visitors must go back to their country immediately after their duties in Thailand are fulfilled, the embassy said.

  • Gov’t says tourism recovers slightly despite pandemic

    The Ministry of Tourism and the Phnom Penh municipal administration have recognised 33 tourism businesses in the capital which have consistently implemented safety measures for tourists and adhered to the code of conduct issued by the ministry. Recently, the ministry announced that tourism businesses had to

  • Mull ASEAN border opening, PM urges

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that ASEAN launch a scenario for gradually reopening cross-border travel and trade between countries in the region. He said ASEAN has had more success combating Covid-19 compared to other regions. The prime minister’s request was made at the

  • Ministry reports 11 new Covid-19 cases, reiterates vigilance

    Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng has urged people to continue practising virus prevention techniques after 11 people tested positive for Covid-19 within two days after arriving in the Kingdom. Speaking on Sunday, Bun Heng stressed the importance of washing hands, wearing masks or scarves when

  • Koh Rong land ‘belongs to firm’

    Preah Sihanouk Provincial Administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum told The Post on Sunday that the 35ha being bulldozed by Royal Group Co Ltd in Koh Rong belongs to it after it was leased to it for 99 years by the government in 2008. Phearum said the land does