All in vain
The Digital Security Act faces an unprecedented protest and criticism.
Since 1973, successive parliaments passed 1,395 bills till date. But none of them triggered criticism of the scale that the digital security act elicited at home and abroad for some of its controversial provisions, which go against freedom of speech and expression and press freedom guaranteed by the constitution.
The criticism kicked-off soon after the cabinet on August 22, 2016, approved the proposal in principle, seeking to enact the digital security law. The protest intensified after the bill was placed in the House on April 9 this year.
Before the bill was passed, a number of local and international organisations and diplomats requested the government to drop the controversial provisions.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Press Institute (IPI), ARTICLE 19, Transparency International Bangladesh, Ain o Salish Kendra and Right to Information Forum are among the organisations who voiced concerns.
The Sampadak Parishad (Editors' Council), a platform of editors of national dailies, has been opposing the move since the beginning.
On April 19, country's leading editors on April 19 at a meeting with the law minister and post telecommunications and ICT minister expressed deep concerns over some provisions in the bill. Freedom of expression and independent journalism, they feared, will be badly affected if those provisions remained in the legislation.
In his reaction, Law Minister Anisul Huq said, "The concerns of the Editors' Council are logical for the major part."
Later in another meeting with representatives of the Editors' Council, Association of Television Channel Owners and a faction of Bangladesh Federal Union of Journalists on May 21, the law minister said, "We will not enact any law targeting journalists or one that will create obstacles to independent journalism."
Based on the editors' concerns, it was decided that the law minister would ask the parliamentary standing committee on the Post, Telecommunication and ICT ministry that scrutinised the bill to invite the Editors' Council to attend any of its meetings so that the editors could place their concerns in writing before the committee.
The editors' council then placed their concerns at a meeting with the parliamentary body on May 22. But the committee did not address it. It rather placed a report in parliament with recommendations for passage of the bill.
Labelled as draconian at home and abroad, the bill was passed in parliament on September 19, ignoring concerns of journalists and rights defenders and keeping a harsh provision that allows police officials to search or arrest anyone without a warrant.
Some local and international organisations continued to raise their voice even after the bill was passed in parliament. They called on the president not to assent to the bill and to return it to parliament.
The Editors' Council meanwhile had announced a protest human chain for September 29, which they postponed after the information minister invited them for talks.
On September 30, the Council sat with the law, information and ICT ministers, where the editors were assured that their concerns would be placed before the cabinet. But that did not happen either, although two cabinet meetings have taken place since then.
All of this means that nothing -- protests, criticisms, pleas and assurances -- worked as President Abdul Hamid signed the Digital Security Bill into law on Monday.