The two sections won’t be repealed: Law Minister

Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anisul HuqBSS

The two sections of Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act (DSA) that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has recommended repealing will not be struck down, said Law Minister Anisul Huq.

The law minister also said the government has been mulling over some reforms in the act to stop making arrests immediately after any allegation is brought and its misuse.

Anisul Huq was speaking to this correspondent of Prothom Alo. He spoke about the liberation war, the dignity of the country’s history and religious values as the reasons or explanations for the stance of the government.

The law minister said section 21 spoke about maintaining the dignity of liberation war, the spirit of liberation war, father of the nation, national anthem and national flag. These are connected with the people’s sentiment. But the anti-liberation war forces try to create a chaotic situation through sarcasm about these foundational issues of the country. That’s why the government won’t scrap the section.

On the other hand, section 28 of the act spoke about protecting religious values. Law minister Anisul Huq said attempts were made to create chaos situation by hurting religious sentiment or through provocation on social media different times.

In this context, the government thinks this section protecting the religious values also can in no way be abolished.

In the recommendation to abolish the two sections of DSA, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said there are elements in the sections that can criminalise expression.

The allegations of limiting freedom of press and freedom of expressions by the two sections have been raised since the very beginning of enactment of the law.

But the government has not agreed to repeal the two sections. The law minister, however, has said they have been considering reforms so that there is no scope to misuse the two sections.

The law minister, at the same time, also said the government has been scrutinising the OHCHR’s recommendations of reforming another eight sections of the Digital Security Act.

But the OHCHR made the recommendations in June last year. The law minister did not talk about any specific time period to complete the scrutiny of the recommendations.

The law minister said the government has been in discussion with the concerned stakeholders to bring about reforms in the law instead of abolishing any section. As part of this initiative, the law minister will hold meeting with rights activists and platforms that work to ensure civic rights this month.

He mentioned that the government will take steps based on the issues to be raised in the discussion.

A debate has been going on regarding the Digital Security Act since the passage of the act. The abuse of the law is also continuing. The law minister himself also acknowledged the allegations of misuse. He said to some extent the law has been abused. That’s why they want to take up reforms after having discussion with the concerned parties. But he mentioned that they won’t abolish any section of the law or the law as a whole.

Another significant recommendation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is to put the act on stay for its reforming. The law minister is not agreed to consider this call as well.

He said, “They have not informed me anything in this regard. But if any reform is made, that would be carried out without suspending the act on stay. There is no scope to do that.”

Anisul Huq said the issues identified as crimes in the Digital Security Act are also covered in The Code of Criminal Procedure. But as per the CrPc, the crimes are committed physically whereas the digital crimes are not committed physically. That’s why it is necessary to have a Digital Security Act.

He also claimed that this law in no way limits the constitutional rights of freedom of press and freedom of expression.