Abolish, not reform, Digital Security Act

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

While Digital Security Act was said to be formed with the goal of eliminating crimes committed on digital media, political leaders-activists of opposite views, journalists and human rights activists are being repressed and harassed with it. Plus, the act is being utterly misused for personal and collective interests.

According to Centre for Governance Studies (CGS), 1,109 cases have been filed under this act accusing 2,889 people in between October 2018 and August 2022. However, only 2 per cent of these cases have been settled so far. Some have been convicted, some acquitted in those 2 per cent of settled cases. But, accused of the cases with its investigation still pending, have been suffering harassment and torture for a long time.

As reported by media, 725 cases filed before 2022 are still undergoing investigation. The act clearly says to finish investigation within 60 days with an extension period of 15 more days if necessary. But, many of the cases are remaining pending for years.

While some accused have been given bail, rest of them have to stay behind bars indeed. Most sections of this Act are non-bailable. Writer Mushtaq Ahmed, who was detained under this act, died of illness inside prison.

While different quarters from home and abroad have protested against the Digital Security Act being used for political gain, the government isn’t even considering the issue.

Even law minister Anisul Huq himself has admitted that this act has been misused and overused also. While he talked about stopping the act from being abused, the situation remains mostly the same in reality.

Journalists were vocal against the act since the very beginning. There are such sections in the act that makes it not only difficult but impossible to practice free journalism. It says, police can search, seize and arrest without any warrant or authorisation when there’s a digital crime.

Besides, the Official Secrets Act has been included in this Act as well. In other words, if the law is broken by disclosing or helping someone to disclose top secret or confidential information of any government, nationalised, autonomous or statutory agency through recording, transferring or preserving them, it can result in maximum 14 years of imprisonment, a fine of Tk 2.5 million (25 lakh) or both.   

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk has urged for the act to be amended. At the same time, he expressed his concern over political violence, indiscriminate arrest of political leaders, activists and harassment of human rights activists also.

After meeting ambassadors of seven European Union countries last Thursday, the law minister said that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has sent a technical note about the Digital Security Act. The government’s reviewing it. And, he’s supposed to meet civil society representatives on the same issue next 14 March.

We believe, reforming or amending the act won’t solve the issue. In fact, ministers’ assurance that the act won’t be misused against journalists will be of no use either. If the government believes in democratic governance, different views and freedom of the media, the Digital Security Act has to be abolished entirely.