Human rights activists and political opposition leaders in Bangladesh have expressed concern over the country's draft cybersecurity law, saying it is as repressive as the existing controversial digital security law it is meant to replace.
The activists, along with journalists and opposition parties, have long called for the abolition of the DSA – widely criticized as a law designed to harass people and silence those who think differently.
Justice Minister Anisul Huq said on August 7 that the government would replace the DSA with the CSA in the “better interest” of the people.
“We have not abolished the DSA, we are changing it. Many of the clauses of this law that were not previously attachable [in the DSA] will now be bailable [in the CSA]. To stop misuse and abuse of the DSA, we have changed its name. “Now that we've properly evaluated the amended legislation, we've dubbed it the Cyber Security Act,” Huq said.
Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, liaison officer at Hong Kong-based human rights group Asian Legal Resource Center, told VOA the government of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina disregarded the UN's independent human rights experts by retaining some provisions of the DSA in the new measure.
“While the regime is renaming the DSA, keeping its repressive provisions largely unchanged, and deciding to continue the ongoing trials against the dissidents, it clearly aims to continue to stifle freedom of expression and increase arbitrary detention of citizens in the run-up to the general election. said Ashrafuzzaman.
Enacted under Sheikh Hasina
The DSA, which came into force in 2018, has long been called a “black act” by critics for alleged abuses against dissent and freedom of expression.
Last year, Human Rights Watch reported that the Bangladeshi government used the DSA to “harass and indefinitely detain” those critical of the government, which “had a chilling effect on the expression of dissent.”
In March, Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for the immediate suspension of the DSA, noting that it was being used to “arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders and to silence critical voices on the internet.” . ”
“CSA a photocopy of DSA”
In the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary elections, the government cracked down on opposition activists, arresting many on charges of using violence and subversive activities.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, the country's main opposition party, said its leaders and activists faced fabricated allegations to keep them out of the election.
This year's elections were marred by allegations of vote-rigging by the ruling Awami League party, an accusation party President Hasina has repeatedly denied.
According to the BNP, more than 30,000 cases have been filed under the DSA over the past five years, resulting in at least 17,150 arrests.
The BNP's Information and Technology Minister said at least 11,285 of those arrested under the DSA belonged to the BNP and other opposition parties and 368 were journalists. AKM Wahiduzzaman also told VOA that the law was largely used to prevent opposition leaders, activists and journalists from criticizing what he called misconduct and anti-grassroots activities by the government.
“The CSA is nothing more than a photocopy of the DSA. Even under the CSA, the police are free to arrest anyone they want without a warrant,” Wahiduzzaman said.
The Department of Law and Justice has not responded to an email from VOA seeking comment on the matter.