The Editors’ Council will form a human chain in front of the Jatiya Press Club on October 15, demanding amendment to nine sections of the recently passed Digital Security Act, 2018.
“Sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43, and 53 of the Digital Security Act must be amended appropriately to safeguard the freedom of media and freedom of speech,” said the written statement placed at a press conference arranged by the Council at the Jatiya Press Club on Saturday.
The human chain, which was earlier postponed at request of Information Minister, will be formed at 11am on October 15.
Addressing the press conference, Mahfuz Anam, general secretary of the council, said, “We, the Editors’ Council, never wanted the act be scrapped, rather we have repeatedly sought the radical changes in some specific sections which go against independent journalism and hamper work the environment of journalists.”
He, however, said the Editors’ Council thinks that there should be a stronger cyber security law in Bangladesh and it is essential to appoint acceptable expert lawyers to prepare such a law.
Mahfuz Anam, also editor of The Daily Star, said the Indian government had tried to pass such a law, but their High Court rejected it, terming the move as an unconstitutional one.
Bhorer Kagoj editor Shyamal Dutta read out the written statement where the council placed six other demands.
The other demands include (2) the amendments (to 9 sections) be brought about in the last session of the present parliament; (3) in conducting search in any media institution by police or any other body, and they should only be permitted to block specific content but not to shut down any computer system, and in blocking content, they should do so only after discussions with the editor with reasonable proof of why such content should be blocked.
The demands also include (4) in blocking or confiscating any computer system of a media house, prior order from the High Court must be obtained; and (5) in cases of offences relating to performance of journalistic duty by media professionals, they must be issued summons to appear before a court (as is the law now), and under no circumstances should media professionals be detained or arrested without warrant and due process of law.
The two remaining demands are (6) in instances of offences made by media professionals, it should be routed through the Press Council to establish prima facie case. For this purpose, the press council may be strengthened appropriately; and (7) the primacy of the Right to Information Act, passed by this government, should be unequivocally established above the Digital Security Act, and all freedom and rights granted under that law to citizens and the media must be protected.
The council in the statement said, “We express our disappointment, regret and shock that the anti-free press and anti-free speech draconian Digital Security Act has been signed into law in spite of our fundamental objections and repeated protests and several engagement with the government and two sittings with the Parliamentary Standing Committee.”
“We further express our surprise that nothing was done in spite of public commitment by three ministers and media adviser to the PM to raise our concerns to the cabinet and open a dialogue with the stakeholders to work out acceptable changes in the Digital Security Act,” it said.
“We consider it to be a breach of the trust that the Sampadak Parishad (Editors’ Council) had reposed on the three ministers,” the statement adds.
The council said a last-minute change was brought strengthening further the hands of the police to enter newspaper offices and media establishments, search, block and confiscate digital networks and even to arrest journalist without warrant.
The council reiterated its position that the Digital Security Act is against the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Article 39 (2) (a) of the Constitution, the spirit of freedom enshrined in the 1971 Liberation War, the fundamental values of ethical and independent journalism, and the spirit and purpose of the Right to Information Act.
It claimed that the Act gives unlimited power to the police to enter premises, search offices, bodily search persons, seize computer, computer networks, servers, and everything related to the digital platforms. “According to the Act, the police can arrest anybody on suspicion without warrant and do not need any approval of any authorities.”
In trying to make a law to prevent crimes through digital devices and provide security in the digital sphere, the act ends up policing media operations, censoring content and controlling media freedom as well as freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution, the Council said.
The Act suffers from vagueness and uses many terms that can be misinterpreted and used against the media, it said.
The Act will create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which will make journalism, especially investigative journalism, virtually impossible, the council added.
In addition to media professional, the law will create panic among all users of computers, computer networks and other digital devices, it added.
Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, Kaler Kantha Editor Imdadul Haque Milon, Bangladesh Protidin Editor Nayeem Nizam, Manob Zamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, Naya Diganta Editor Alamgir Mahiuddin, Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan, Financial Express acting Editor Shahiduzzaman Khan, Independent Editor Shamsur Rahman, Sangbad acting Editor Khandker Moniruzzaman, Inquilab Editor AMM Bahauddin, Banik Barta Editor Dewan Mohammad Hanif, Samakal acting Editor Mostafiz Shafi and Jugantor acting Editor Saiful Islam, among others, joined the conference.
The much-talked- about ‘Digital Security Bill, 2018′ was passed in Parliament on September 19 and President Abdul Hamid assented to the Bill making it a law on October 8.unb