A man wearing a face mask with slogan reading 'Do not obey the digital Security Act' during a march towards the Prime Minister's office in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 03 March 2021. EFE-EPA FILE/MONIRUL ALAM

Bangladesh set to amend controversial digital security law

Dhaka, Aug 7 (EFE)- The government of Bangladesh has announced plans to change the country’s controversial Digital Security Act and replace it with a new law amid widespread criticism from rights groups and concerns from the United Nations.

Students supporting Bangladesh’s leftist party try to removes a police barricade as they march towards the Law Ministry in Dhaka, Bangladesh, 16 March 2021. EFE-EPA FILE/MONIRUL ALAM

Law Minister Anisul Haq told a press conference in Dhaka that a cabinet meeting on Monday, headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, had approved the new law, called the Cyber Security Act, in principle and sent it to the legislative division of the law ministry for vetting.

“Cyber Security Act is made to change the Digital Security Act.  The Digital Security Act is not being repealed but changed,” Haq clarified

The minister said that most of the provisions of the DSA have been retained in the new law, except for reducing some punishments, including the penal provisions for journalists convicted under the law.

The new law has dropped the provision of a jail sentence for those found guilty of violating the law and incorporates a provision of fines up to Bangladeshi Taka 2.5 million ($23,000 approximately).

If the culprit is unable to pay the fine, they may have to face 3 to 6 month in prison, Haq said

The minister added that some of the non-bailable offences were made bailable in the new law, while the provision of double punishment for repeat offenses has been dropped.

The new law also reduced the maximum punishment for any kind of propaganda or campaign against Bangladesh’s liberation war, the father of the nation (Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman), the national anthem, or the national flag, bringing it down from 10 years to seven years.

“The government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina always listens to people, in English it can be dubbed as the ‘listening government.’ There are some misuses and abuses in the Digital Security Act. To stop this, we changed the name of the law,” Haq claimed

The Digital Security Act was approved by the Bangladesh Parliament on September 19, 2018, and came into effect just three months before a general election in which the ruling Awami League and its allies held onto power for a third consecutive term.

The law minister had informed the parliament in June that a total of 7,001 cases had been filed across the country under the DSA as of January 31.

Human rights organizations called the law “draconian” and said it was being used repeatedly to stifle dissent and criticism of the government.

Those arrested or charged under the law include journalists, cartoonists, musicians, activists, entrepreneurs, students, and even farmers.

Rights groups had called on the government to repeal or substantially amend the act and end the crackdown on the right to freedom of expression online.

In March, United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk called on Bangladesh to immediately suspend the use of the Digital Security Act, expressing concern at its impact on freedom of expression in Bangladesh, in particular on journalists, academics, and human rights defenders.

“We will look at the proposed changes in detail before giving our opinion on the new law,” Dewan Hanif Mahmud, editor of local daily Bonik Barta and general secretary of the Editors’ Council, a platform for newspaper editors, told EFE.

The new law is expected to be passed in the next session of the parliament in September.

Bangladesh is due for its next general election in December or January. EFE