Bangladesh enacts controversial digital security law

Wednesday 10th October 2018 02:47 EDT

New Delhi: Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid gave his assent to a controversial new law that media groups fear could cripple press freedom and curb free speech in the South Asian nation. The Bangladeshi parliament passed the Digital Security Act on September 19, combining the colonial-era Official Secrets Act with tough new provisions such as arrests without a warrant.

In August this past year, Bangladesh witnessed some of the most widespread student demonstrations sparked by an incident of road violence. What initially erupted as an outpouring of anger over the unregulated transport industry quickly escalated into extensive anti-government protests over what is perceived as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

The past few years have seen the government of Bangladesh clamping down on free speech and press freedom more and more. Dozens of activists and journalists have been arrested for expressing dissenting views against the ruling Awami League Party. Shahzahan Bachchu, 60, the owner of Bishaka Prokashoni and the acting editor of weekly Amader Bikrampur, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in June this year. His death was the latest in a string of attacks made to stifle freedom of expression and undermine journalistic freedom.

The Bangladesh government also ordered the blocking of internet access to The Wire a day after it published an article on the role of the country’s military intelligence agency in the illegal pick-up and secret detention of the university academic Mubashar Hasan.

The draconian Section 57

A particularly draconian law employed in the suppression of free speech and jailing of dissidents was Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology law (enacted in 2006 by the BNP-Jamaat government and amended in 2013) which carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. It was under this law that Shahidul Alam, a prominent social activist and photographer, was arrested recently for ostensibly spreading “propaganda and false information” during widespread student protests.

Sheikh Hasina has defended the new law by saying it is aimed at controlling cyber and digital crimes.“The journalists are only thinking about their interest, not about society and only for that they are raising their voices,” she said last month.

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