Digital Security Act: If the law repealed, why will there be any case?

The cabinet meeting on Monday approved the decision in principle to repeal the Digital Security Act and make a new law. It is reported that the government will replace the law with a new Cyber Security Act-2023.

Upon its enactment in 2018, the Digital Security Act faced opposition from various quarters, yet it was enforced despite objections. In response, protests arose from members of the media, human rights organisations, and individuals from diverse backgrounds. Volker Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged the government of Bangladesh to promptly suspend the enforcement of the Digital Security Act on 1 April.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights conducted an evaluation of the Digital Security Act and subsequently issued a recommendation to the Bangladesh government in June of the preceding year. This recommendation entailed the complete removal of two specific sections within the Act, along with eight associated amendments.

Belatedly, the government has made a policy decision to revoke the Digital Security Act, a move that we commend. However, a crucial consideration arises: what will be the essence of the proposed cyber security law? An important aspect to address is whether the ongoing cases governed by the Digital Security Act will be nullified as a result of this repeal.

Numerous provisions from the earlier Information and Communication Technology Act, including the contentious Section 57, were assimilated into the Digital Security Act. Should the new Cyber Digital Act also encompass objectionable and objectionable sections from the Digital Security Act, albeit in a different form, it would essentially amount to repackaging an old product under a new facade.

Anisul Haque, the Law Minister, conveyed to Prothom Alo that the Digital Security Act contained provisions for imprisoning journalists for defamation. The forthcoming law aims to rectify this by replacing imprisonment with fines as the punitive measure.

Our point is that the Digital Security Act has not only been used against journalists, but it has also been consistently and arbitrarily employed to suppress dissent against the government and its official narrative. Individuals ranging from leaders and members of opposition political parties to human rights activists have fallen victim to this law, enduring imprisonment and even torture. An example is the case of human rights activist and journalist Mushtaq Ahmad, who was detained under the Digital Security Act and tragically died in prison.

According to reports from last March, the Savar correspondent of Prothom Alo, Samsuzzaman, was arrested under this law and subsequently imprisoned. He is currently out on bail. Additionally, a case has been filed against Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman under this law. The legal proceeding is ongoing.

The question that has arisen following the cabinet's decision is: what will be the fate of the Digital Security Act cases? If the Act is repealed, the cases filed under it should be dismissed as well. Those who are presently incarcerated under the confines of this stringent law should also be released promptly. Moreover, the government should take steps to provide compensation to individuals who have suffered imprisonment and oppression due to this law.

Safeguarding the fundamental and human rights of citizens is a primary responsibility of the state. It should not engage in using restrictive laws to harass individuals.Legal experts believe that if someone commits a crime using digital media, he can be tried under conventional law.

The primary concern with the Digital Security Act was its inclusion of several non-bailable provisions. The Law Minister has assured that these non-bailable sections will be revised to be bailable in the new law. However, beyond this bail issue, the Digital Security Act had other shortcomings as well. It's unclear whether these problems will be addressed in the new legislation.

Before introducing any new law, it's crucial for the government to take into account objections and recommendations from experts in digital security laws. The law should be crafted after carefully reviewing advice and opinions from all stakeholders.