Owners of private television channels, the Editors' Council, and the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) participated in a meeting at the parliament building.
Members of parliament have assured journalists’ representatives that amendments will be brought to the proposed Digital Security Act 2018, addressing concerns about freedom of the press and security of journalists.
The assurances were given at a meeting between journalists and a parliamentary committee at Jatiya Sangsad on Thursday.
Owners of private television channels, the Editors’ Council, and the Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists (BFUJ) participated in a meeting at the parliament building.
Presided over by the President of the parliamentary committee Imran Ahmed, the meeting also saw the participation of Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar and Law Minister Anisul Huq on special invitation.
Journalists present at the meeting welcomed the initiative of formulating the Digital Security Act. However, they proposed amending eight specific sections of the Act.
The journalists’ proposal was accepted positively by the parliamentary committee, said Post, Telecommunication and Information Technology Minister, Mustafa Jabbar, after the meeting ended.
“We are in agreement with the journalists about amending the sections they have problems with,” said Mustafa. “We are going to bring necessary amendments so the freedom of press does not get hampered.”
Representative of Editors’ Council and Editor of Daily Samakal, Golam Sarwar, Editor of The Daily Star, Mahfuz Anam, Representatives of private television channels, Salman F Rahman and Mozammel Babu, and President of BFUJ, Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, were present at the meeting.
“We had a very fruitful meeting with the parliamentary standing committee. We have reached a consensus that we have to remove all the obstacles to free journalism from the proposed Digital Security Act,” daily Samakal Editor Golam Sarwar told reporters after the meeting.
BFUJ President Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul said they mainly discussed two issues.
“One is that the government should not formulate any law that hinders the process of expressing people’s opinion, and the other issue is that no such provision shall be there in the act, which can reduce the freedom of media,” he said.
“The journalist community wants a law that checks digital crimes, but we do not want misuse of law. We want the Bangladesh Press Council to be involved when the act is applied against any journalist,” Bulbul said.
Association of Television Channel Owners (ATCO) President Salman F Rahman said: “We have discussed the problems we found in the proposed act and the parliamentary body assured us of taking necessary amendments.”
The draft legislation has raised questions as to whether anyone who clandestinely records incidents of bribery at government offices, or who secretly takes pictures of documents exposing corruption, will be subjected to punishment under the new act.
It is being seen as incorporating in its different sections the much derided provisions of section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act.
The eight disputed sections
Section 8: Section 8 contains a definition of data.
Section 21: This section says anyone spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation using digital devices will be sentenced to up to 14 years in jail or fined up to Tk 1 crore or both.
Section 25: A person may face up to three years in jail or Tk3 lakh in fine or both if they deliberately publish or broadcast in a website or electronic form something which is attacking, intimidating or insulting; publish or broadcast false information to defame someone; published or broadcast false information to mar the image of the state.
Section 28: This section says a person may face up to seven years in jail or Tk 10 lakh in fine or both if he is found to have deliberately published or broadcast something in a website or in electronic form or got it done to hurt one’s religious sentiment and values.
Section 31: In this section the law says that a person may face up to seven years in jail or Tk5 lakh in fine or both if they publish or broadcast, on a website or in digital form, content that fuels communal hatred and disrupt law and order.
Section 32: Section 32, the most criticized section of the law, proposes a maximum jail term of 14 years and a fine of up to Tk20 lakh for espionage, defined as illegally entering government, semi-government and autonomous institutions and secretly recording any kind of information or data with electronic devices.
Critics of the proposed legislation have claimed Section 32 could be used to frame espionage charges against anyone who gains unauthorized access to information held by government organs.
Section 34: An offender may face up to 14 years in jail or Tk1 crore in fine or both for hacking, of the bill says.
Section 43: of the draft law, a police official can stop, search and arrest anyone without a court-issued warrant, and search a place as well.
IT Minister Mustafa Jabbar has been a strong defender of Section 32 in the past, saying it is “necessary” and that “violating privacy is unacceptable”.
He said in January that journalists had “conditional freedom” in Bangladesh.
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“Why should you do something secretly? It is unacceptable?” he asked. “One can never violate state secrecy. Will you be able to force yourself into someone else’s house? Can anyone take pictures in someone else’s house without permission?”
According to online activist Arif Jebtik, online journalism had served to raise awareness among people of many things that take place around them.
“Illegal activities of government officials involved in corruption have been exposed (so) I think this section has been formulated to protect the corrupt officials,” he told Bangla Tribune in January after the cabinet approved the draft.
“This law has ensured that people who are harassed at government offices do not get the chance to collect evidence,” he said.