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Bangladesh will tone down its Digital Security Act (DSA) by replacing it with a new law, following years of criticism that the “draconian” legislation has been used by the government to suppress dissent and freedom of speech, Al Jazeera reported this week.
On Monday, Law Minister Anisul Huq said the government would change some provisions of the DSA via its replacement in the Cyber Security Act 2023 (CSA) after repeated calls from the United Nations Human Rights Commission and Western governments to abolish it.
Enacted in 2018, the DSA sparked concerns among opposition groups and journalists that it would be used to stifle criticism of the government with hefty fines and jail sentences.
In April, UN human rights chief Volker Türk asked Bangladesh to “impose an immediate moratorium” on the law’s use, and “to reform comprehensively its provisions to bring them in line with the requirements of international human rights law.”
In his announcement, Huq explained that the new CSA would be a “modernized” version of the DSA, and would eliminate provisions that can be “misused.” These changes include “monetary penalties” instead of “imprisonments” for journalists in defamation cases.
Fines for such cases will be capped at $23,000 instead of $92,000. Still, a person could be jailed for up to six months in case of the non-payment of fines, the minister added.
While some journalists and human rights advocates welcomed the proposed changes, others questioned whether the amendments were enough and called for a complete repeal of the DSA instead of a toned-down version under a new name.
The proposed CSA comes as Bangladesh prepares for a general election in January.
The government has been accused of cracking down on the opposition, with some politicians lamenting that the new CSA “will still have the scope to be misused against oppositions and dissenters.”