Bangladeshi Cabinet approves amendments to controversial Digital Security Act

Bangladeshi Cabinet approves amendments to controversial Digital Security Act

'We have made some major amendments to the draft law. For example, in a defamation case, we kept only fines instead of jail term,' says Law Minister Anisul Huq

By SM Najmus Sakib

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – The Bangladeshi government decided to amend the controversial Digital Security Act on Monday, renaming it the Cyber Security Act and removing the jail sentence for defamation in the proposed amendment after the journalist fraternity and human rights group criticized it for being used improperly to silence opposition voices.

The Cabinet has approved amending and renaming the act as demanded by rights organizations, including the UN, ahead of the upcoming general elections in December.

"We have transferred the technical sections of the existing act to the new draft law, Cyber Security Act 2023. But we have introduced amendments to prevent abuse and misuse of the law," Law Minister Anisul Huq told Anadolu.

"We have made some major amendments to the draft law. For example, in a defamation case, we kept only fines instead of jail term. In some other sections of the act that did not have bail options, we made those bailable in the law," he explained.

Later, at a press conference, he said the only penalty for defamation under the proposed act is fine, "but if the fine is not paid, there will of course be jail time of three to six months, depending on the fine amount."

The pending cases under the existing act will be transferred and decided under the new act once it is enforced, he added.

Human rights defenders, including UN Human Rights chief Volker Turk, recently called on the Bangladeshi government to suspend the abusive practices of the law.

Human rights defenders, including UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk, recently urged the Bangladeshi government to suspend abusive practices under the controversial Digital Security Act.

Turk said the act is being misused to arrest, harass, and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, as well as to muzzle critical voices online.

The main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), has blamed the government for using the act to intimidate their voice and criticism.

According to Law Ministry records, over 7,000 cases have been filed across the country since the law was enacted on Oct. 1, 2018, just days before the 11th general elections in the country.

Last month, a high-level US delegation led by Uzra Zeya, under-secretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, and Eamon Gilmore, EU special representative for human rights, expressed concern about the act and media environment in Bangladesh during a visit to Dhaka.

They had also put forward recommendations to amend the act, which the law minister assured them of amending controversial clauses by September.​​​​​​​

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