UN body’s suggestions not reflected in draft CSA
The technical recommendations made by a UN rights body about the Digital Security Act have not been reflected in the draft Cyber Security Act, Irene Khan, UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression, said in a letter to the government.
The draft CSA contains vague and overly broad provisions, criminalising legitimate forms of expression, reproduced from the DSA, she said.
The recommendations, sent by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2022, included repealing Sections 21 and 28.
Section 28 punishes publication of information that "hurts religious values or sentiment".
Section 21 criminalises "any kind of propaganda or campaign against the Liberation War, spirit of the Liberation War, father of the nation, national anthem or the national flag".
"International human rights law protects individuals from intolerance, violence and discrimination based on their religion or belief, but it does not allow restriction of criticism of religious belief or sentiment," she wrote in her August 28 letter sent under the mandate of the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
"Furthermore, the imprecise language of the provisions would risk encouraging human rights abuses in the name of religion."
She also pointed out that criticism of state authorities, including the head of the state, and diverse views relating to a state's flag, national symbols or historical events are legitimate expressions, protected by international law.
"While appreciating the [Bangladesh] government's desire to protect the distinct national historical legacy of Bangladesh, the vague and broadly framed nature of this provision could lead to unlawful restriction of political expression and is not consistent with international law."
Irene Khan encouraged the government to promote respect for the liberation struggle and national symbols and values through enhanced public education instead of pursuing criminalisation.
She also recommended that the government replace criminal defamation in the CSA and the Penal Code with a provision on civil defamation to help limit the claim only to those directly affected. Another recommendation is this regard was to include public interest in the subject matter as valid defences.
Her letter further said, "The criminalisation of 'offensive or false information' [Section 25] is both contrary to international law standards and ineffective in combating disinformation and misinformation.
"The right to freedom of expression applies to all kinds of information and ideas, including those that may shock, offend or disturb."
Access to independent, diverse and pluralistic media, and digital and media literacy of the public has proven to be more effective against false information than criminalisation and censorship, she added.
The special rapporteur pointed out that the DSA's Section 27 on cyber terrorism has been reproduced in the draft CSA.
"That definition of cyber terrorism is extremely broad and vague, and does not refer to the elements in the international definition of terrorism."
She also said that law enforcement agencies and the telecommunications regulatory authority enjoy extensive, unfettered power under the draft law.
Section 42 gives police a very wide authority to search and seize, and arrest any person without a warrant.
"The experience of the DSA suggests strongly that independent judicial oversight over the conduct of search, seizure and arrest by law enforcement officials must be strengthened.
"The punishments remain disproportionately harsh under the draft act … The proposed changes would not be significant enough to be meaningful."