UN Special Rapporteur proposes suspending Digital Security Act

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter
Screengrab of a video on YouTube channel Olivier De Schutter

UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Olivier De Schutter has proposed suspending the implementation of the Digital Security Act until qualitative amendments are made to the law.

Journalists, human rights defenders, opposition leaders and academics have been arrested under the act for practicing the right to freedom of expression, he said.

Olivier De Schutter was speaking at a media conference at a city hotel on Monday after ending his 12-day visit to observe the extreme poverty and human rights situation in Bangladesh. He also talked about the Digital Security Act (DSA).

Olivier De Schutter said, “It is not normal for the people who fight for human rights to live in a climate of fear and intimidation. The DSA is routinely abused by certain prosecutors and therefore it should be fundamentally rethought. I recommend suspending the DSA until it is significantly improved in order to do what it should do, which is combat terrorism effectively but not be a Damocles’ sword that weighing above the heads of human rights defenders.”

Mentioning that over 2,400 people were prosecuted or accused under the Digital Security Act so far, the UN Special Rapporteur said some of them were kept under detention for long period of time in cases filed under the law before they could obtain release from the higher courts. The issues would pose obstacles to press home the demand for overall economic and social rights.

“These developments will not scare off the very investors the country is trying to attract, but they are also an obstacle to the realisation of economic and social rights. You cannot deliver health care, education or social protection without also improving accountability and transparency,” De Schutter said.

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Regarding the Digital Security Act, UN Special Rapporteur Olivier De Schutter also said he discussed the matter with the government and particularly with the foreign ministry. “My colleagues have also talked about this (Digital Security Act). That is why I am proposing to suspend this law as long as qualitative changes are not brought to the law,” he said.

Income disparity increases

In his 12-day visit, Olivier De Schutter went to Rangpur, Kurigram and Cox’s Bazar. He exchanged views with day labourers, farmers and civic society representatives and government officials in those districts.

Describing his experiences, the UN Special Rapporteur said though Bangladesh has achieved significant advancement in poverty reduction the situation remains precarious. He considered high income disparity and inflation as two most important reasons behind the situation. That is why he put special emphasis on social safety net.

Mentioning about meeting poor people during his visit to Bangladesh, Olivier De Schutter said there are multidimensional poor people and especially the income disparity has increased in cities.