Maj Gen (retd) Tarique Ahmed Siddique, security affairs adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has said the premier encourages journalists to produce investigative reports.
“There is no way to negatively consider the draft Digital Security Act 2018, because Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina always encourages journalists to work on investigative stories,” he said.
Tarique was speaking to reporters in Chittagong on Wednesday, where he went to attend the concluding session of Bangladesh Navy’s annual exercise "Safe Guard 2018" on board the missile frigate BNS Bangabandhu.
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nizamuddin Ahmed was also present at the location.
Tarique also urged journalists not to consider the proposed legislation as a tool against them and their profession.
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“The authorities should clarify the act if there is any provision that could potentially be misused,” he said.
Meanwhile, Tarique also expressed his hope that Bangladesh would someday be able to build frigates on its own.
“For many, it may seem highly ambitious that we will build our own frigates, but we hope to be able to turn this ambition into reality.”
Responding to journalists’ queries, the prime minister’s security adviser added that the government does not have any plans to procure more submarines at the moment, even though the existing submarine base has the capacity to accommodate six to eight of the vessels.
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In March 2017, the Bangladesh Navy added submarines to its fleet for the first time, after acquiring two of the naval craft from China.
There has been widespread public outcry among journalists and civil society members since the proposed Digital Security Act 2018 was approved at a Cabinet meeting on Monday, January 29, 2018.
The criticism has primarily been directed at Section 32 of the act, which would allow 14-year jail terms and a maximum fine of Tk20 lakh for those who are caught secretly recording information inside government, semi-government or autonomous organization’s offices.
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Critics of the proposed legislation claimed the provision could be used to frame espionage charges against anyone who gains unauthorized access to information held by government organs, which would severely inhibit investigative journalism.
In an immediate reaction to the Cabinet’s approval, Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists President Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul said: “If any section of the law turns out to be an impediment to the execution of the professional work of journalists, we are against it.”
The journalists’ leader, who is also the chief executive of Ekushey Television, recognized the need for a relevant law to control modern technology and ensure the security of the nation and its people, keeping in mind the need for fighting against militancy.
“But in no way should it go against the professional endeavours of the journalists or their freedom of expression,” he said.
Manjurul added that editors of media outlets as well as teachers of media studies must be consulted before the government finalizes any law relevant to the freedom of the press and expression.