The editors demanded amendments be brought in the last session of the current parliament
The Editors’ Council on Monday formed a human chain to demand changes to a number of sections of the Digital Security Act which it fears could be used to gag journalists.
The Digital Security Bill 2018 passed by parliament on September 19 sets out provisions to deal with cyber crimes, including those hurting religious sentiments, negative propaganda against the Liberation War and Bangabandhu, illegal activities in e-transactions, and the spreading of defamatory data.
However, members of the media and rights campaigners say the legislation could quash freedom of speech - especially on social media - and will undermine responsible journalism.
To protest its terms, a total of 16 editors including Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan gathered in front of the National Press Club in Dhaka on Monday morning, forming the human chain and issuing seven demands in a statement.
The statement said the council is not against the Digital Security Act, only that it wants to see amendments passed in the last session of the current parliament to “ensure the freedom of the media and independent journalism”.
“Recently, ministers expressed their eagerness to sit with the editors about the act and they also believed that there is a scope of discussion, but this should not be a mockery,” Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam, who is also the council’s general secretary, said.
Last week at a press conference, Bhorer Kaganj Editor Shyamal Dutta said the council had rescheduled the human chain from September 29 at the request of Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu, who wanted more time for the ministry.
One day later, three ministers and the prime minister’s media affairs adviser in a meeting said that they would open a discussion about the matter in the cabinet meeting either on October 3 or October 10, and would seek a meeting with the Editor’s Council.
“No solution has yet been given,” Shyamal Dutta said.
Other editors joining the human chain on Monday were Matiur Rahman of Prothom Alo, Nurul Kabir of New Age, and Naem Nizam of Bangladesh Pratidin.
1. Amend sections 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43 and 53 of the Digital Security Act
2. Make the amendments in the last session of the current parliament
3. While conducting a raid on a media house, law enforcers only be able to block content—not shut down a computer. Law enforcers should need to discuss why content should be blocked, with the editor of the media house.
4. A prior order needs to be obtained by the court for a computer system to be seized
5. In case of a professional offence, journalists must be issued a summons to appear before the court as it is existed in the current law; and journalists should not be arrested without a warrant or adherence to due legal procedures
6. In cases where media professionals are accused of committing offences, procedures should be established to route the cases through the Press Council and establish prima facie case. Due to this, the press council may be strengthened appropriately
7. The supremacy of the Right to Information Act, passed by the government, should be unequivocally established above the Digital Security Act. All freedom and rights granted under that law, to citizens and the media, must be protected.