Even though section 57 of the information technology act enforced during the BNP-Jamaat alliance government was decried as a black law, Awami League has been using this law for the past nine years or so since coming to power. And now it is simply reshuffling this law, coming up with the proposed Digital Security Act. We are shocked, pained and angry.
We are in favour of stringent laws to tackle steadily growing cyber crimes. But the government has once again displayed how they can totally ignore public opinion. The media, relevant experts and international quarters have expressed their objections and concern about nearly half a dozen clauses in the digital security act, but the government has turned a deaf ear to all this, and has gone ahead to place the draft of the law for parliament approval. If the bill is passed, this will yet again create a threat to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Among the clauses of the law which are of utmost concern, we find three to pose as threats to the fundamental rights of the people. First, there is mention of several new crimes which have not been clearly defined. For example, we will take ‘defamation’ to be as defined in the 1860 criminal code, but there are other crimes so unclear and vague that this gives wide scope for misuse. This bill brings to mind characteristics of a police state.
Secondly, the prison sentence and fine to be imposed under the digital security act is many times higher than the penalty for heinous crimes and criminal activities as laid down in the criminal code.
Thirdly, it is the norm for the judge to fix the term of sentence or fine if the court finds a person guilty. But the digital security act has predetermined the sentence term and fine.
The constitution which has resulted from the historic struggle for independence, does not give the parliament the right to create laws that suppress freedom of expression. On the contrary, it is stressed that the parliament must not waywardly go ahead as they want, but formulate laws based on logic and reason.
Democracy, the right to vote, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press are fundamental rights as upheld in the fundamental framework of the liberation war. The journalists fearlessly took the message of Bangabandhu to the people, despite menacing threats from the state. That is why the constitution specifically mentions freedom of the press, in recognition of this courageous contribution. Such a clause exists nowhere else in this region.
It is time for all quarters to prepare to challenge the constitutional legitimacy of this proposed law in court. We apprehend that the government will go ahead to speedily pass this law with no amendments. Jatiya Party may be a ‘pet’ opposition of the government, but even they protested against this law in parliament. Can they not play an even stronger role?