Editors’ Council worried over proposed law too

Editors' Council

The government has taken a decision in principle to enact a new law transforming the Digital Security Act (DSA). This justifies the worries the Editors’ Council and other stakeholders in the news media have been voicing for long.

The Editors’ Council said this in a statement on Wednesday. At the same time, the top body of the editors’ of newspapers in the country is waiting to see what shape the newly proposed Cyber Security Act in place of Digital Security Act takes.

The statement, signed by Editors’ Council president Mahfuz Anam and general secretary Dewan Mahmud, said the government did not take into account the concerns of the Editors’ Council and other stakeholders during enacting the Digital Security Act in 2018. It was expected that the opinions of stakeholders would be taken to amend, repeal or proposing new law to replace the DSA. But it seems once again the government is taking initiative to make a draft of the proposed Cyber Security Act and pass the bill into a law without doing anything like that. As a result, it is only normal for questions to arise among the stakeholders and the people about the law.

What the media reported about the proposed Cyber Security Act, quoting the law minister, cannot free the Editors’ Council from concern. Apparently it does not seem any changes have been brought in the content of the law except reducing the sentence in some sections and making some non-bailable offences bailable. For example, sections 22, 23, 24, 26, 28, 31 and 32 of Digital Security Act were non-bailable. All the sections have been made bailable in the proposed Cyber Security Act. It would be meaningless to change the name if there is no difference in content between the Digital Security Act and Cyber Security Act.

It has been said in the proposed law that, in the case of defamation suits, a journalist will have to pay Tk 2.5 million as fine instead of serving a jail sentence, publishing any such report. The matter of concern is, if the punishment mentioned in the CrPC of 1860 for defamation is not amended, the new law is bound to fail. Secondly, the concerned person will have to serve in jail if he cannot pay the fine of Tk 2.5 million. Above all, it is normal to raise questions on the justification of these sentences instead of the sentences as per CrPC for criminal offences and sentences related to journalism.

There were strong demands to repeal sections 21 and 28 of Digital Security Act at home and at an international level as these were considered obstacles to freedom of expression, weapons to harass the political opposition and confusing. As the two sections have been retained in the proposed new law albeit reducing the sentences, there will remain scope of misuse and abuse of the law.

Another matter of concern is retaining section 32 of the Digital Security Act. Though punishment has been reduced, the Official Secrets Act of 1923 from the colonial times has been retained through this section. The colonial rulers enacted this law as they mistrusted the people of this country. The Editors Council saw no justification of this law in independent Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, section 43 of the Digital Security Act has given police authority to enter people’s home, search at offices, frisking people and seizing their computers, computer network, server and everything related to digital platform.

Because of the mandate of this section, police can arrest anyone out of suspicion without any arrest warrant. Through this police have actually been given a certain kind of “magisterial authority”, which is in no way warranted. As this section has also been retained in the proposed Cyber Security Act, we cannot consider the law as something new.

The statement of Editors’ Council also said, “We also want punishment for crimes committed through digital or cyber media. But it is necessary to hold discussions with the news media stakeholders before finalising the act so that the proposed Cyber Security Act does not turn into a weapon like the Digital Security Act to snatch press freedom. Besides, as the government has taken the decision to cancel the Digital Security Act, let the cases filed under this act be withdrawn and the people who are already behind bars having been arrested under this act, be freed.”