Everyone has to be collectively vocal to revoke the Digital Security Act (DSA). The misuse of this law is an obstruction to free journalism and freedom of speech. With the national election ahead, there is risk of further abuse of this law.
Speakers made these observations during an online discussion organised by the Center for Governance Studies (CGS), a research institute, on Saturday morning.
In the discussion titled ‘Digital Security Act 2018: In the Eyes of the Citizens’ the law was claimed to be conflicting with the constitution. Despite extensive criticism from human rights workers, students, civilians and international community for the vague definition of the law, the government formulated the law in 2018.
SHUJAN) general secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said the Digital Security Act was made in favour of the rulers not in public interest
Under the jurisdiction of this act, law enforcement agencies availed the power to detain citizens without a warrant for suspicion of conducting criminal activities using any medium. The number of cases filed under the act is steadily rising. According to data derived from various media in between 1 January 2020 to March 2021 more than 1,500 cases were lodged. In 2018 the number was 925; in 2019, 1,189 and in 2020, 1,128 cases were recorded.
Participating in the discussion, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN) general secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said the Digital Security Act was made in favour of the rulers not in public interest. Loopholes in the law were designed for misapplication. Without protesting in unison to abolish the act, there will be no resolution. Centering upcoming national election, it is apprehended that political tension will be created by this law and its abuse will grow even further.
Former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Muhammad Abdul Majid said the fault was not in the law, it’s in the law enforcer’s mindset. The law is being misused in many ways. The act needs to be rectified through discussions.
Barrister Tania Amir said the Digital Security Act is being misused in the same manner as the Special Powers Act
Professor of the marketing department, University of Dhaka, Mizanur Rahman said the Digital Security Act is abused more in vague issues like treason, blasphemy and defamation. He added, anything not in tune with the government it is being considered as sedition. Such propensity of those people at a high level is being adopted by law enforcers as well.
Barrister Tania Amir said the Digital Security Act is being misused in the same manner as the Special Powers Act. Self-censorship is being practiced all over in fear of facing lawsuit. Journalists are into self-censorship. The questions remain as to whether reporters are failing to fulfill their responsibilities and professionalism, and also in whose interest the act is being used. She further said through united movement it was possible to repeal the Special Powers Act. Similar unit is needed to annul the Digital Security Act.
Regional Director of Article 19 Bangladesh and South Asia, Faruq Faisel, said some other laws similar to the Digital Security Act have snatched away freedom of expression. The Official Secrets Act of the British colonial era has been misused against two journalists until now. This happened in case of Prothom Alo reporter Rozina Islam. Later Rozina Islam received an international award. The sister of a journalist was summoned because he had criticised the government from outside Bangladesh. This was not legitimate. The international community is observing such abuse of the laws against civil rights and democracy.
The discussion was chaired by CGS chairman Monjur Ahmed Chowdhury. He called upon the lawyers to file a writ petition jointly to cancel the Digital Security Act. CGS executive director Zillur Rahman moderated the programme.