Bangladesh’s digital law muzzles democracy, say activists

On eve of Global Day of Democracy, while activists seek repeal of Digital Security Act, government says steps are taken to check misuse

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – Demanding the revocation of the Digital Security Act (DSA), human rights groups and media fraternity in Bangladesh claim that the law was being used to suppress dissenters against the government.

Experts say the law enacted in 2018 aims to ensure digital security was posing a threat to democracy and the principle of free speech.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on eve of the International Day of Democracy, which is being observed on Wednesday, journalist and political analyst, Rezwan Siddiqui said the law has become a tool to book anyone by branding the speech derogatory.

“This act should be repealed immediately and there is no option of amendment if the government truly believes in democracy as it claims,” he said.

In a report, a global rights watchdog, Amnesty International, said till July, as many as 433 people had been imprisoned in Bangladesh under this law for publishing allegedly false and offensive information online.

According to the rights body, last year 900 cases had been filed under the DSA, and 353 were detained.

“At least 247 journalists were reportedly subjected to attacks, harassment, and intimidation, by both state agencies and individuals affiliated with the government (in 2020),” it added.

Md. al-Amin, a young journalist working at one of Bangladesh’s leading national newspapers, the Manab Zamin, and its editor, Matiur Rahman Chowdhury were booked under the law for exposing corruption syndicate.

“For the first time in Bangladesh all editors of the country’s leading national newspapers demonstrated on the street against this law,” he said, adding that such an act cannot be accepted in a civilized state.

Amin recently secured bail from a Dhaka court remaining fugitive for 18 months.

“It was the most crucial chapter in my life. I was a fugitive in the last one and half years,” he said.

Similarly, writer Mushtaq Ahmed was arrested under the DSA in May 2020 for posting details about the critical condition of healthcare workers amid the pandemic. He is believed to have died in custody.

Rejecting the charges of misusing the law, Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, media advisor to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said that the financial crisis due to the global pandemic should be more alarming for the media than the adverse impact of the digital act.

“Most of the media are now under the ownership of different corporate houses and business institutes. Businessmen and politicians are controlling news mainly for two purposes – business and political interests,” he said.

Chowdhury urged journalists to move unitedly against any non-professional and unethical motive of media owners for the greater interest of the country’s democracy.

He said the government was taking due steps against specific cases of alleged misuse of the DSA.

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