The statement read: 'This act will further stifle any remaining scope for free speech that Bangladesh had left, since we view this act as a mere repackaging of the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act 2013.'
The Bangladeshi diaspora has made a collective appeal over the Digital Security Act 2018 passed by the Bangladesh parliament on September 19, 2018.
They made the appeal in a press release issued on Friday.
The statement read: “This act will further stifle any remaining scope for free speech that Bangladesh had left, since we view this act as a mere repackaging of the notorious Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act 2013.”
Expressing concerns about the act, the press release further read: “The official secrets act provision of the new act may define investigative journalism on government activities as acts of espionage- a crime punishable with 14 years of rigorous imprisonment.
“The most egregious provision of the act is that it will allow the police to arrest anyone on mere suspicion, often on non-bailable charges, without any court-issued warrant or any independent oversight prior to arrest.”
It mentioned that various organizations, including the Editors Council of Bangladesh, an umbrella organization of newspaper editors in Bangladesh, have expressed concerns and urged the government to revise several provisions.
The press release also quoted an Amnesty International statement saying: "This law imposes dangerous restrictions on freedom of expression...Given how the authorities have arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people in the past six years under the Information and Communication Technology Act, there are serious concerns that the new Act will be used against people who speak out."
Members of the Bangladeshi diaspora also expressed concerns that this Digital Security Act has been passed at a time, on the eve of the General Election-when an environment of tolerance and coexistence is paramount.
“The Act will not only affect the press but also academic work, exchanges in social media involving policy critiquing and historical scrutiny regarding the politics of Bangladesh, with far-reaching impact on researchers inside and outside of Bangladesh,” it read.
The Digital Security Act 2018 contains provisions for up to 14 years imprisonment and fines up to 1 crore Taka for a wide variety of digital/ internet-based or social media activities that might be perceived by the state as hurting one’s religious sentiments, subversive to the state, defamatory to anyone, or disrespectful to the Father of the Nation of Bangladesh and the spirit of the 1971 liberation war.
Bangladeshis and Bangladeshi-origin members of the global Bangladeshi diaspora, such as Professor Ali Riaz, Distinguished Professor, Department of Politics and Government, Illinois State University, USA, and Professor Zillur Rahman Khan, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, University of Wisconsin, USA, signed the press release.