Section 32 to have insertions to protect journalists: Minister

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Staff Reporter:

Law Minister Anisul Huq on Tuesday said the government will insert a sub-section, if necessary, into section 32 of the proposed Digital Security Act to protect journalists doing investigative journalism.

The minister came up with the remark at a meet-the-press programme at Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU).

Assuring journalists of protecting them, Anisul said the new law is not being formulated to punish or harm them and urged them not to take the issue as their own only.

There were some ambiguities in section 57 of the ICT Act which have been repealed in the new law following the request of journalists, he said, adding that section 32 of the proposed law defines all the offences clearly. “Minimum punishment in the new law is three years’ imprisonment while that was seven years as per Section 57 of the ICT Act.”

Mentioning that a journalist will not be charged under the proposed law if he or she presents facts through his or her report, Anisul said, “If any journalist is affected by the proposed law, I’ll fight for him or her free of cost.“

He also assured that the controversial issues that have worried journalists will be considered before finalising the law.

President of Law Reporters’ Forum Ashutosh Sarkar presided over the programme.

On January 29 last, the Cabinet approved the draft of the Digital Security Act 2018 designed to combat ‘growing cybercrimes that are affecting many public and private organisations’.

The draft law seeks to repeal controversial Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act that deals with defamatory or other harmful contents online which has been used to silence critics and journalists.

However, journalists and rights activists believe the new draft is draconian and gags freedom of expression.

The proposed law has punishment provisions of life sentences for spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman using digital devices; up to a five-year jail term for deliberately publishing defamatory or false or distorted contents; up to 10 years’ jail for hurting religious sentiments or hate speech or causing deterioration of law and order; and up to 14 years in jail on charges of spying that includes illegally entering government offices to gather information or recording secretly using electronic devices.

The proposed law also empowers security agencies to search or arrest anyone without any warrant issued by a court if a police officer believes that an offence under the act has been committed or is being committed, or there is a possibility of crimes.

The proposed law has defined the term ‘journalist’ under which all (who work on fulltime basis) editors, feature writers, assistant editors, correspondents, reporters, copy writers, cartoonists, photographers or persons nominated by the government through gazette notifications will be considered as journalists.unb

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