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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

PEN Bangladesh calls for Cyber Security Act to meet international standards

  • It sees the proposed changes as a step in the right direction
  • The organization also concerned that changes are not sufficient enough
Update : 19 Aug 2023, 02:30 PM

PEN Bangladesh has welcomed the government's long-stated commitment to reform the heavily criticized Digital Security Act and replace it with the new Cyber Security Act, 2023.

The draft Cyber Security Act was approved in principle in a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on August 7.

According to a press release issued on Saturday, PEN Bangladesh sees the proposed changes as a step in the right direction but is also concerned that changes are not sufficient to protect the freedom of speech. 

"Many controversial Digital Security Act clauses are retained in similar forms in the new Cyber Security Act. The decrease in non-bailable offences from 14 to six is positive. The replacement of some prison sentences with only fines is also a positive. But the definition of the crimes remains such that they can still lead to false or motivated accusations, according to the organization.

"In the proposed law, the punishment for defamatory acts using cyber platforms is set at a fine of Tk25 lakh while the prison sentence is removed. While seemingly positive, the fine amount is large enough for most Bangladeshi journalists and even smaller media outlets for it to be leveraged as a silencing tool, it mentioned. 

"Furthermore, if the punishment mentioned in the Panel Code of 1860 for defamation is not amended, the new law is bound to fail. Secondly, the person concerned will have to serve in jail if he or she cannot pay the fine of Tk25 lakh. Sentences could be set as per CrPC for criminal offences and sentences related to journalism. All non-bailable offences should be made available." 

PEN Bangladesh says Section 43 of the Digital Security Act gives police authority to enter people’s homes, search offices, frisk people, and seize their computers, computer networks, servers and everything related to digital platforms. This allows the police to arrest anyone out of suspicion without any warrant. This is tantamount to granting the police “magisterial powers.” Retaining this clause as it is renders many of the other positive changes moot, it said. 

PEN Bangladesh states that the reduction of sentences and increase of bailable sections is positive but reducing, increasing, or changing the sentences will not protect fundamental human rights. It is meaningless if there is no difference between the character of the DSA and the Cyber Security Act other than a change in name. 

PEN Bangladesh feels that there is serious scope for abuse under the proposed law too as the definition of the offenses has not been changed. PEN Bangladesh urges the government to hold earnest discussions with stakeholders before the law is finalized and sent to parliament for ratification. 

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