Digital Security Act should be abolished, not amended

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Digital Security Act has a deep connection with Bangladesh falling even further behind in the World Press Freedom Index. Bangladesh has been receding constantly in the press freedom index since the act being employed in 2018.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’ report published on the World Press Freedom Day, Bangladesh ranks 163 among 180 countries. Last year the position was 162. Bangladesh scored 35.31 per cent this time, whereas last year’s score was 36.63 per cent.

Not only the RSF, almost every local and foreign report found worrying data of press freedom in Bangladesh. While stakeholders of the media industry had been warning about the dangers of Digital Security Act since the very beginning, policy makers of the government didn’t take them into consideration at all.

Only after the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights made a call to abolish two sections and amend eight sections of the act, did they come to their senses and the ministers talk about the misuse of the act now and then.

Law minister Anisul Huq in a discussion on the World Press Freedom Day said that a committee has been formed with the aim of amending the act. While there are officials from law ministry’s parliamentary affairs division, foreign affairs ministry, home ministry and ICT division in the committee, no representatives of the media has been kept there.

Announcing that the Digital security Act won’t be abolished the law minister has said that they will try to amend it within September. There’s enough room for doubt about how fruitful this attempt of theirs will be.

What the law minister said about the case filed against Prothom Alo editor and reporter isn’t true either. Prothom Alo’s report on the Independence Day put no words about the prices of daily commodities on the mouth of a seven-year-old.

Prothom Alo quoted a day labourer in that report which didn’t have any mistake in it. Yet some people identifying them as CID officials picked the Prothom Alo reporter up from his home at 3:00am and two cases were filed against him later, one of which also accuses the Prothom Alo editor. Both of them are out on bail now.

Different ministers have made different comments about the case filed against Prothom Alo under the Digital Security Act, which is nothing but denial of the truth.

Despite no crimes being committed on digital or any other medium, the case against Prothom Alo proves how unfairly journalists are victimised by the abuse of this act.

It’s claimed on government’s behalf that the Digital Security Act hasn’t been formed to harass or pester the journalists. It’s been made to prevent crimes on digital platforms.

If that’s the case, why 27.41 per cent of the total cases have been filed against journalists then? Since the law being implemented in October 2018 till 11 April of the current year, 1,295 cases have been filed in total. In terms of numbers, maximum 403 politicians have been charged, followed by 355 journalists and 118 students.

In this situation if the law is amended just for amendment’s sake, it is difficult to believe that it will protect press freedom or human rights of the citizens.

In tune with the media experts, we too want to say that if the government does not consider journalism a crime (which cannot be the case in any civilised country), then they should just abolish the Digital Security Act altogether. Or at least, save the journalists and journalism from the guillotine of this act.