Law Minister Anisul Huq on Saturday admitted to misuses and abuses of the Digital Security Act, saying the government will amend the act if necessary to implement it properly.
He, however, said bringing amendments to any law is a lengthy process and the government may go for shortening the process.
Speaking at an event titled "Digital Security Law Debate" organised by the Editors Guild Bangladesh at the Dhaka Gallery, the law minister said, "There are some problems in the Digital Security Act. We have already identified it. Those problems can be eliminated through rules. The government is taking action in this regard. That is why the misuse of digital security laws has now reduced."
Other experts at the roundtable discussion said the DSA needs to be amended as the freedom of the press, free speech and free pursuit of creative works have shrunk in Bangladesh due to the misuse and abuse in implementing the law.
"After the death of Writer Mushtaq Ahmed following his arrest two years ago [under the DSA], there is a fear among writers and journalists in Bangladesh about this act. The reason why this fear is working is that the law is being misused," Syed Ishtiaque Reza, joint secretary of the Editors Guild Bangladesh, said as the keynote speaker.
"The scope of harassment under various sections of this Act is endless. In this law, if a person is arrested or sued, they have to spend a long time in jail before the crime is proven," he added.
Terming the law unclear, he said, "The Official Secrets Act which is a 100-year-old law, repealed during the RTI Act, has been brought back [in the DSA]. Sections 25, 28, 29, 31 of the Digital Act deal with defamation of individual and state image, injury to religious sentiments, and defamation, or things like aggravation caused by disorder which are marked as offences."
"Journalists, on the other hand, have gone into self-censorship a lot. In most cases, newspapers are unable to publish cartoons. Investigative journalism is now almost extinct," he added.
Human rights activist advocate ZI Khan Panna said, "Section 14 of this Act is non-bailable. Shariat Bayati sang a song, because of which he was jailed for a year and half."
Sohrab Hassan, joint editor of Prothom Alo, said if we look at the statistics of the last four years, the law has mostly been used for political reasons.
"If the law is used to suppress people instead of protecting them, then it becomes an anti-people law. This law cannot be present in a civilised country," he added.
Cultural personality Nasiruddin Yousuff Bachchu said, "The digital world requires protection from blasphemy and hate speech. But if you look at the application, what happens there? Rita Dewan and Shariat Bayati - we know what happened to them. We cannot understand where their wrongdoing was."
"Our movies and dramas have been stopped because the character of the police is shown in a negative way. The flow of our creative process in these matters is being disrupted," he added.
Filmmaker Kamar Ahmad Simon said, "Now when I write a script, I stop and think 10 times. A culture of fear is at work. There must be freedom of thinking."
Law Minister Anisul Haque said, "DSA was not meant to take away freedom of speech or freedom of press. It is in the public interest. If, then, you have to make a quick decision based on the crime, then this law is essential."
He said he has spoken to the home minister about setting up a cell to stop misuse and abuse of this law.
Regarding Section 14 being non-bailable, he said, "Non-bailable does not mean that one will never get bail. The court will deliberate whether to grant bail."
Amid widespread criticism, President Abdul Hamid signed the Digital Security Bill into a law on October 8, 2018, which was termed draconian at home and abroad.
Saturday's event was moderated by the Editors Guild Bangladesh President and Editor-in-Chief of Ekattor Television Mozammel Babu while Regional Director for ARTICLE 19 South Asia and Bangladesh Faruq Faisel and Additional IG of Police Md Harun-Ar- Rashid, among others, spoke at the discussion.