• Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

Digital Security Act being used as weapon to silence opposing views: Speakers


Apr 17, 2023

The Digital Security Act (DSA) was passed to regulate opposing beliefs and it has taken away the citizens’ right to criticise the government, said speakers at a webinar titled ‘Digital Security Act: What to do now?’ held on Monday.

The Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) hosted the webinar where the speakers said that DSA is a threat to the security of the masses and it is also being used to suppress opposing beliefs ahead of the national elections.

Key speaker at the event, Illinois State University’s politics and government department’s distinguished professor and CGS advisor Ali Riaz said, “Right from when the draft of the act was first drawn up, everyone said this will end up being dangerous. It will curtail freedom of expression. Four and a half years later, we are seeing exactly that. DSA was put in place to foster a culture of fear.”

The office of United Nation’s High Commission for Human Rights analysed the DSA and sent a number of suggestions to the Bangladesh government in June. Riaz said that the government has not held any discussion with the relevant parties since receiving the suggestions.

The professor also claimed that the government didn’t give any emphasis on citizens’ security in DSA, saying, “This law needs to be abolished. The government are saying they are looking into it, they will do it. But they aren’t looking into it nor are they doing it. The government is unwavering about this act, which is worrying. They are using it as a weapon ahead of the elections.”

Riaz listed five things the government needs to do before the abolishment of DSA to prove their sincerity.

They are: 1. Appointing observers. The government would decide for how long the observers will be appointed for. 2. Publishing the statistics of how many cases have been filed under DSA, how many have been accused, the latest development of those cases and how many cases have reached conclusion.

3. In DSA cases, the investigation report should be filed under 60 days. The time could be extended by another 15 days. But in most cases, the investigation report is not filed in under 75 days. The government needs to reveal in how many cases the police have failed to file the investigation report in time.

5. Forming a judiciary committee to financially compensate the persons who get acquitted in DSA cases.

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) executive director Iftekharuzzaman said that the DSA can not be amended. He said that the act needs to be abolished.

DSA is hindering freedom of speech, said former election commissioner Brigadier General (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain.

The election commission (EC) published a guideline for journalists on how to collect and broadcast news on election day in the forthcoming national election.

Sakhawat said, ‘This guideline will not allow media personnel to express their opinions. I don’t understand why can’t they show which candidate’s agent is not inside the voting room. This guideline is also in a sense an attempt to stifle the voices of journalists.”

Sakhawat also spoke about the recent cases filed against Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman and journalist Samsuzzaman under the DSA.

He said, “The use of this act in the election year is giving out ominous signs. It’s very tough for the opposition to come to the field with the threat of Digital Secutiry Act looming over their shoulders. It would be difficult for the EC to create an ideal environment for the election. A law like Digital Security Act can’t be in place in a liberal democratic country.”

Rastro Songskar Andolon’s financial coordinator Didarul Bhuiyan was behind the bars for five months under DSA. He said, ‘Using this law is a misuse in itself. A culture of fear has been created though this law. Digital Security Act can’t exist in a humanitarian Bangladesh.’

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CGS executive director Zillur Rahman hosted the webinar.

The DSA was passed in 2018 with a view to ensure security for the country’s residents in cyber space. CGS has been conducting a research on the use of this law since January 2021.

CGS has managed to collect information on 1,295 cases filed under DSA from October 2018 till March 2023. A total of 3,644 have been accused in those cases and out of them 1,378 have been arrested. Many of the accused have gotten bail but the others are locked up in prison pending trial.


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