Friday, June 21, 2024


Dhaka Tribune


There is no time like the present

Our honourable law minister has said: Let us sit together to mark out the problems concerning the law and work together for a solution

Update : 31 Mar 2023, 10:22 AM

Ever since the Digital Security Act came into force, the government has been assuring us that the Act will go through some amendments so that DSA isn't misused and people don't fall prey to unnecessary harassment. 

In fact, the very idea of developing a law like DSA stemmed from concern over misuse of its predecessor law -- the ICT Act (particularly Section 57). 

DSA was developed in late 2018 following the government's commitment to repeal the ICT -- which had been frequently used to restrict the right to freedom of expression in Bangladesh since its inception in 2006.

Unfortunately, the DSA  not only consolidated the restrictive provisions of the ICT, but further expanded such provisions that go directly against the basic tenets of freedom of expression and public right to free speech. 

All along the stakeholders, rights bodies, and civil society members are holding the view that DSA is flawed and that it should be reviewed for repeal and/or amendment of its problematic sections.

Compared to ICT, the DSA has been drafted in a more stringent way, thereby making more offenses under it non-bailable. 

It kept some of the legal provisions and their definitions so vague that scope for misuse is essentially inbuilt. 

Law enforcers enjoy wider liberty to detain and arrest the accused under DSA than was the norm before. 

Not that the government didn't see these problems; rather on many occasions ministers of the government acknowledged the fact that the DSA is being misused and the law requires some amendments.

People from the journalistic fraternity raised the alarm at the very outset, when the government first drafted the bill of the DSA and the concerned parliamentary committee and a group of three designated ministers indeed gave a patient hearing to what the country's leading editors and journalists' bodies had to say about it. 

But ultimately no concern was found to be taken into consideration when it came to enactment and subsequent enforcement of DSA. 

After tracking several hundred DSA cases in 2020-21, a rights body found out that nearly a quarter of the DSA cases were filed against journalists and an overwhelming 85% of the plaintiffs were found to be ruling party adherents. 

It's a common feature in many of the cases that persons perceived to be directly aggrieved are not taking people to court, rather some other people (who consider themselves as supporters of their leaders) take the onus upon them to sue journalists and others under DSA.

The recent escalation of DSA filing against journalists, their detention and arrests in the middle of the night or in pre-dawn raids, comes as a matter of deep concern for us all. 

Isn't it about time that our government, the law minister, in particular, fulfils their laudable and repeated commitment of reviewing and amending the DSA?

The way a Prothom Alo journalist was picked up within little over an hour of filing a DSA case at two in the morning is unprecedented. 

If we go by the authorities' claim, the DSA was filed after 2am in a police station at the heart of the city while the journalist was arrested from a suburb some 28km from the thana area around 4am in the same morning. 

These timings must speak volumes about the efficiency and speed of our law enforcement agencies. 

Nor is it clear if the complaint went through the Home Ministry verification process for prima facie tenability, as the authorities have pledged is the rule and the norm.

Our honourable law minister has said on the record on many occasions in recent times that DSA requires review.

Even at the beginning of this month, he said: "Let us sit together to mark out the problems concerning the law (DSA) and work together for a solution." 

He emphasized: "This meeting can even happen before Ramadan. Anyone can give their opinions there." 

We take the honourable minister at his word and believe the time for such a discussion is now.

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