Bangladeshi newspaper editors held a protest on Monday demanding sweeping amendments to a new digital law that journalists and rights groups say will limit free speech.
Critics say the measures – including jail time for spreading “negative propaganda” – are an attempt by increasingly autocratic prime minister Sheikh Hasina to quell dissent in the southern nation. Asian.
Sixteen members of Sampadak Parishad, a council of top editors, stood outside the national press club in Dhaka, holding hands to form a human chain – a form of popular protest in Bangladesh.
They also held a banner that read “Abolish anti-free speech articles in digital security law”.
According to the Digital Security Act 2018, a journalist could be convicted of espionage for breaking into a government office and secretly collecting information using any electronic device, an offense punishable by up to 14 years. years in prison.
It also carries similar penalties for disseminating “negative propaganda” on a digital device about the country’s war for independence or its founding leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Mahfuz Anam, editor of the popular newspaper Daily Star, said the protesters were not against the principle of a digital security law, but that in its current form it “opposes independent journalism. and to the free press ”.
He said nine sections of the newly adopted law are expected to be amended in the last session of parliament before the general election, which is due in December or January.
Leading editors and journalists had held a last-minute meeting with government ministers to demand that nine sections of the legislation be amended. The law minister promised he would discuss the issues – but the president went ahead and signed the law last week.
Rights groups in Bangladesh, including Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Journalists, have condemned the bill.
President Hasina, however, defended the law, saying that “if there is no criminal mind, there is no reason to worry.”
The law was enacted weeks after Bangladeshi journalist and activist Shahidul Alam was arrested during massive student protests in the capital Dhaka for making “false” and “provocative” statements on Al Jazeera and Facebook Live.
He is under investigation for allegedly violating Bangladesh’s already strict internet laws enacted in 2006.
Rights groups, UN rights experts, Nobel Laureates and hundreds of academics have called for the immediate release of the 63-year-old man, who claims he was beaten in detention.