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No let up in arrests under DSA despite protests

Published : Sunday, 28 February, 2021 at 12:00 AM  Count : 143
Nazmul Ahsan Raju

Despite protests against misuse and abuse of the much-talked about Digital Security Act (DSA), 2018, there is no let up in arrests under this Act.
Ruhul Amin, coordinator of Sramik-Krishak-Chhatra-Janata in Khulna was arrested on Friday night under the DSA for sharing a status on Facebook on the death of writer Mushtaq Ahmed in custody.
After producing him before the court, a Khulna Metropolitan Magistrate Court on Saturday placed him on a two-day remand.
Writer Mushtaq Ahmed died on Thursday at 8:20pm at Shaheed Tajuddin Ahmad Medical College Hospital. In May last year, police arrested the writer from his Dhaka residence under the DSA. He was denied bail six times by the court before his death.
Under the DSA, many
people had been arrested for their posts or for sharing them on different social media platforms.  The situation has taken such a severe turn that people now think repeatedly before uploading any post on Facebook and other social platforms. The number of cases filed under the DSA was alarming high in the last year, creating an environment of fear among the digital platform users.
According to the UK-based Article 19 annual report in 2020, as many as 457 people of all professions were prosecuted and arrested in 198 cases filed under the Digital Security Act.
Of this figure, 75 were journalists, while others included teachers, students, folk musicians and cultural artistes among others. Nearly half of the journalists prosecuted, 32, were arrested. Most of these arrests were made in the month of May.
In 2019, a total of 1,189 cybercrime related cases were filed across the country. Of them, 721 were filed with police stations while the rest 468 were with different courts.
According to the Dhaka Cyber Tribunal sources, most of the cases were filed under sections 25, 28, 29 and 31 of the DSA.
The sections are about crimes related to defamation, religious insults, and harming the state by spreading rumours.
Statistics say that 33 of the complainants either held posts in the ruling party Awami League and/or were parliamentarians, upazila parishad chairpersons or mayors. Eight of the cases were filed by law enforcers.
On December 26 last year, a journalist from Pabna named KM Belal Hossain Shopon was arrested for sharing a photo on Facebook that was making the rounds on social media. Shopon is the editor of a periodical named Somoy Asomoy.
The post had a photo of a handwritten letter supposedly signed by one 'Pushpo Rani' stating that she had been sexually abused by the councillor of Chatmohar municipality Ward No 4. The photo was unverified, and Shopon said as much when sharing the content, adding that it should be investigated whether this is true or not.
Around seven hours after the post was shared by Shopon, he retracted the post, and shared a new announcement stating that he deleted his previous post because even after trying, he could not verify the authenticity of the letter being shared.
Seven hours of keeping up an unverified Facebook post left Shopon in jail for over a month. Experts, including legal professionals and human rights defenders, opined that freedom of expression is a fundamental right guaranteed by country's Constitution which was curtailed by the DSA.
'The DSA was enacted to safeguard people on the digital platforms, but it didn't meet people's expectations and turned out to be misused and creating cause for people's sufferings.' In recent days, those who were arrested under the DSA are neither a threat to society nor criminals, but mere individuals expressing their rights to freedom of speech in a democracy, they said.
They said the DSA should be amended to contain its misuse and false allegations as there are numerous examples of filing cases over insignificant matters.
Supreme Court lawyer and chairperson of Ain O Salish Kendra ZI Khan Panna said the law is being misused by the law enforcers because the government and administration cannot tolerate criticism about themselves.  Advocate Manzill Murshid, President of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB), told the Daily Observer that the DSA is non-bailable. It allows anyone, irrespective of relation to the concerned statement or post, to go to the police station and file a case. "And police arrest the accused immediately. This is how the Act is being misapplied," he added.
Stating the DSA as contradictory to freedom of expression, HRPB president, said the conflicting parts of the Act should be repealed keeping measures to prevent genuine harassment and defamation of citizens.
Supreme Court Lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, also a legal counsel of the death Mushtaq Ahmed said several sections of the Digital Security Act are more alarming and goes against the fundamental rights of the people, which should be amended.



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