Mushtaq was killed ignoring the Digital Act, so rejection of the law is not solution

05 March 2021 Editorial Desk

With the Digital Security Act coming into effect in 2018, journalists, writers, members of civil society and even critics are under fire as the government continues to muzzle freedom of expression. Though our Constitution under Article 39 safeguards both freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the government with its digital act does little to uphold it.

Meanwhile, in the wake of widespread protests over the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed at Kasimpur jail in Gazipur on Thursday, the government is contemplating to incorporate a provision in the Digital Security Act so that no case is filed and none can be arrested under this law before an inquiry into the allegations is conducted, Law Minister Anisul Huq has told the media.

Mushtaq was tortured to kill not under the Digital Act while the case was pending. He, was killed by ignoring the law and abusing the judicial process. The minister however refrained from making any comment when asked whether the government will take any measure so that the accused people arrested under the DSA can easily secure bail from court. Rather, he said the government has prepared a set of rules regarding when to provide bail and when not to.

According to a report published in this national daily on Wednesday, the law minister said the DSA is a "very necessary law" as it has been formulated in order to give protection to the people and the state from digital offences and, therefore, there is no question of repealing it.

Right after the law minister made similar comments on another media outlet on Monday, a man was sent to jail in a case under the DSA in Dinajpur for allegedly spreading fabricated information with ill intentions through a facebook account while another made accused under the same act and denied bail in Khulna.

It is to be noted that that about two years back, different journalists unions, the Editors' Council and other civil society organizations had demanded necessary amendments to the draft of the digital act before enacting the law, but it was passed in parliament without considering their recommendations. Several ministers and top government officials, had assured journalists on different occasions that the loopholes and vagueness of the law would be removed. However, this is yet to happen.

According to a study of Article 19, the UK-based rights organization, 457 people of all professions were prosecuted and arrested in 198 cases filed under the Digital Security Act last year. Of them, 75 were journalists, while others included teachers, students, folk musicians, cultural activists and artistes. It is a shame for democracy and human rights.

DSA is a black law creating fear of easy arrest against free speech but the government's ability to abuse the judicial process for causing unlawful deaths in any way is the problem.

We need a law abiding government accountable to people. In short we need a democratic government and a strong judiciary. Amendment of law or even repeal of law will not make our lives safe when the government needs no law and when the judiciary not only refuses bail easily but also grants police custody easily.

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