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UN rights chief urges immediate suspension of Digital Security Act

UN Human Rights chief Volker Türk on Friday called on Bangladesh to suspend immediately its application of the Digital Security Act.

“I am concerned that the Digital Security Act is being used across Bangladesh to arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, and to muzzle critical voices online.

“I call again on the authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on its use and to reform comprehensively its provisions to bring them in line with the requirements of international human rights law. My Office has already provided detailed technical comments to assist with such a revision,” reads a press release.

More than 2,000 cases have been brought under the Act, which came into force on October 1, 2018. The latest, on March 29, involved Samsuzzaman Shams, a journalist working for the country’s largest daily newspaper Prothom Alo.

He was detained and his laptop, phone and other equipment seized during a house search. His application for bail was rejected, reads the press release.

A second case has been filed against the editor of Prothom Alo, Matiur Rahman, and a photographer. The case is based on their reporting of the cost-of-living crisis in Bangladesh.

In February, a young man, Poritosh Sarkar, was sentenced to five years in prison under this law after being accused of hurting religious sentiments in a post on Facebook.

“My Office has consistently raised concerns about the overly broad and ill-defined provisions of the Digital Security Act,” Türk said.

“The Government has promised there will be safeguards against the arbitrary or excessive application of the law but that is not enough when arrests continue. The law itself needs a proper overhaul,” Türk added.

He called for the creation of an independent judicial panel to review all pending cases brought under the Digital Security Act with a view to those accused being released, reads the press release.

Türk also reiterated his concern about the ongoing trial of Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan from the now de-registered Odhikar human rights organisation, accused of falsely reporting about alleged human rights violations in a case dating back to 2013.