The Cyber Security Bill was passed in parliament On Wednesday amid strong protests by opposition lawmakers.

Jatiya Party and Gonoforum MPs said it was old wine in a new bottle. Like the Digital Security Act, the new law will also be against people's freedom of speech and thought and freedom of the media. It is against the constitution, they said.

The new law is to replace the DSA, which has been widely criticised at the national and international levels.

Rights activists and different journalists' organizations said almost all the controversial provisions of the DSA have been retained in the Cyber Security Bill. Only the punishment for committing some offences has been reduced.

The government is saying that it is a new law, but there will be no relief. Because it is an old wine in a new bottle, said Gonoforum MP Mukabbir Khan while taking part in the discussion on the bill.

He said journalists, the United Nations, and the Editors' Council have objected to and expressed concern regarding the new law.

Mukabbir said the Editors' Council pointed out that at least nine sections of the DSA severely curb freedom of expression and independent journalism and demanded they be amended.

"Now in the proposed law, seven sections have been amended regarding punishment and bail. The definition of crime is not clarified. It remains the same. No changes were made to two of the sections. The UN Human Rights Office called for the repeal of two clauses. But instead of repealing those sections in the proposed law, changes have been made in terms of punishment and bail."

Mukabbir said with this law, someone can be easily harassed.

"I can easily imagine how much this law is a threat to journalists," he said, adding that this law is one of the most effective tools to suppress dissent, criticism, and free thought.

He said over the last four and a half years, the DSA has only been used for suppressing free thought and criticism of the government or the ruling party. And the journalists suffered the most. Their freedom of expression has been severely curtailed. This act empowers the police to enter homes and search and arrest people without warrants.

JP MP Fakhrul Imam said some amendments have been made, but journalists said that they are not satisfied. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press are ensured by the Constitution. Any law against freedom of speech would be unconstitutional.

JP lawmaker Pir Fazlur Rahman said the DSA was controversial. But this new law too will stand in the way of free journalism and expression.

"Section 42 of this act provides the power [to law enforcers] to arrest without warrant. The act required special protection for journalists. There was scope to get the Press Council involved," he added.

JP MP Shameem Haider Patwari said the constitution ensures freedom of thought, the press, and speech. Therefore, such a law is unconstitutional.

The new law kept the definition of the offences the same as in the DSA. This law will lead to the media self-censoring more.

JP lawmaker Hafiz Uddin Ahmad said many have objected to section 42. All illegal sections including this one need to be removed.

Mujibul Haque, another lawmaker of the party, said journalists take up the pen for the country. There was an opportunity to involve the Press Council.

State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed said freedom of thought and freedom of expression are recognised by the constitution, but they are not unrestricted. The freedom does not allow violation of the rights of others.

He said the DSA was enacted in 2018 as it was required then. Now the cyber security law is being enacted because it is required now. There is no alternative to the Cyber Security Act to build a transparent, accountable, and secure "Smart Bangladesh".

The bill was passed by a voice vote.

WHAT'S IN THE LAW

The bill was placed in parliament for passing yesterday keeping offences under sections 17, 19, 27 and 33 as non-bailable. The offences are related to intrusion into key information infrastructure, damaging computers and computer systems, cyber terrorism, and hacking.

In the DSA, sections 18 (1) (b), 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32 and 46 were non-bailable, but the new law makes them bailable.

Trials of the cases already filed under the DSA will continue under the act.
 


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