Sections 25(a) and 31 contained vague descriptions of offences, and were lacking sufficient precision to make clear what speech would violate the law
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday condemned the Digital Security Act passed by the Bangladesh parliament as a blow to freedom of speech in the country.
“The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech,” said HRW Asia Director Brad Adams in a statement on the organization’s website.
“With at least five provisions criminalizing vaguely defined types of speech, the law is a license for wide-ranging suppression of critical voices,” he added.
Sections 21, 25(a), 31, 29, and 28 of the act are among those identified by HRW as having the scope for criminalizing free speech, violating international standards on free expression.
Section 21 authorizes sentences of up to 14 years in prison for spreading “propaganda and campaign against the Liberation War of Bangladesh or spirit of the Liberation War or Father of the Nation.” Such a provision violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which states that laws which penalize the expression of opinions about historical facts are incompatible with a country’s obligations to respect freedom of opinion and expression, the HRW statement said.
Furthermore, Sections 25(a) and 31 contained vague descriptions of offences, and were lacking sufficient precision to make clear what speech would violate the law. This increases the likelihood of self-censorship, it added.
Meanwhile, HRW also said Sections 29 and 28, while more specific than the equivalent provisions of the ICT Act, were still not in line with international norms. Defamation as identified in Section 29 should be a civil offence, not criminal, and Section 28’s prohibition on speech that hurts someone’s religious feelings, reinforced by criminal penalties, cannot be justified as a necessary and proportionate restriction on speech, according to HRW.
“The passage of this law utterly undermines any claim that the government of Bangladesh respects freedom of speech,” Adams said. “Unless parliament moves swiftly to repeal the law it just passed, the rights of the country’s citizens to speak freely will remain under serious threat.”