UN Human Rights chief urges immediate suspension of Digital Security Act

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Volker Turk
Reuters file photo

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk today called on Bangladesh to immediately suspend Digital Security Act.

“I am concerned that the Digital Security Act is being used across Bangladesh to arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, and to muzzle critical voices online,” Türk said in a press release.

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“I call again on the authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on its use and to reform comprehensively its provisions to bring them in line with the requirements of international human rights law. My office has already provided detailed technical comments to assist with such a revision.”

The UN rights body said more than 2,000 cases have been filed under the Digital Security Act which came into force on 1 October 2018. The latest, on 29 March, involved Shams Zaman, a journalist working for the country’s largest daily newspaper Prothom Alo.

He was detained and his laptop, phone and other equipment seized during a house search. His application for bail was rejected, the press release adds.

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"A second case has been filed against the editor of Prothom Alo, Matiur Rahman, and a photographer. The case is based on their reporting of the cost-of-living crisis in Bangladesh," the press release adds.

“My office has consistently raised concerns about the overly broad and ill-defined provisions of the Digital Security Act,” Türk said.

The UN rights chief said the government has promised there will be safeguards against the arbitrary or excessive application of the law but that is not enough when arrests continue.

“The law itself needs a proper overhaul.”

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The high commissioner called for the creation of an independent judicial panel to review all pending cases brought under the Digital Security Act with a view to those accused being released.

Türk also reiterated his concern about the ongoing trial of Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan from the now de-registered Odhikar human rights organisation, accused of falsely reporting about alleged human rights violations in a case dating back to 2013.

The press release also mentioned that a young man named Poritosh Sarkar was sentenced to five years in prison under this law after being accused of hurting religious sentiments in a post on Facebook.