Digital security Act cases: Politicians worst victims
Politicians are the worst victims of the Digital Security Act, with at least 167 of them being prosecuted under the controversial law during 2020 and 2021.
DSA Tracker, a project of the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS), studied cases against 1,468 individuals and could determine the professions of approximately 400 of them.
Politicians comprised the largest chunk, while journalists were a close second with at least 160 facing prosecution under DSA.
At a virtual discussion hosted by CGS yesterday, the organisation's Executive Director Zillur Rahman said, "We don't see politicians taking a stance against this law even though we are seeing a lot of [DSA] cases against them."
"We are observing that instead of the people directly affected, others are filing the cases on their behalf," he also said, at the discussion titled "The Digital Security Act 2018: In the Eyes of the Politicians".
Kazi Firoz Rashid, co-chairman of the Jatiya Party, said, "The most egregious thing about this law is that most of the sections are non-bailable. The law that attempts to repress opposing ideologies is leading us in a direction that is at odds with democracy."
Abdul Awal Mintoo, vice-president of the BNP, delved into specific sections of the law which prosecute "hurting the spirit of the Liberation War".
"Can someone explain to me what the spirit of the Liberation War is? One can go to jail for going against the spirit of the war, but we don't know what it is," he said.
He added that the Liberation War was fought to protect people's freedom of expression, equal rights, right to protest, right to assembly, and ensure their economic freedoms. "This law is contrary to all of those."
Zonayed Saki, chief coordinator of the Ganosamhati Andolon, pointed out that the police have been solely empowered to decide whether anyone's sentiments have been hurt by any content.
"Even if the aggrieved person does not take any action, another person can take action on their behalf. There is also a dangerous provision [in the act] that allows them to intervene if they suspect a crime can happen in future."
Barrister Andaleeve Rahman Partho, chairman of Bangladesh Jatiya Party, called the DSA "a shoddily drafted law".
"This was drafted simply to threaten people. Even though the government can now control the media, they need this law to control social media. You will barely see any cartoons in the media these days," he commented.
Andaleeve said it is ultimately a police officer who will decide whether the spirit of the Liberation War was hurt, and as a result people will land in jail.
Maj Gen (retd) Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, chairman of Bangladesh Kallyan Party, said only the issue of writer Mushtaq Ahmed was in discussions because he lost his life "to the system".
He said the spotlight must shift to the others who are in prison and in similar danger.
Ahmed Hossain, organising secretary of the ruling Awami League, countered the criticisms of the law, saying "freedom of expression has limits".
"Are the police trying to stop this programme? Doesn't it prove that there is freedom of expression in this country?" he asked.
CGS chairperson Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury presided over the discussion.