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Bangladesh’s Digital Security Act Weaponises Media Regulation

Media freedom and acceptance of criticism are crucial for the survival of democracy in Bangladesh.

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FILE PHOTO: Students, teachers of Mass Communication and Journalism department of Rajshahi University protesting against Digital Security Act-2018

On May 16, 2020, Police arrested two people from the Lamchari village of Matlab Dakkhin upazila (sub District) in Chandpur District in a case filed under the Digital-Security Act (DSA). The arrestees – Sumon Biswas and Adhir Chandra Mallik – had been allegedly making derogatory comments about Islam, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and the Bangladesh Police on Facebook for the preceding few days.

On May 6, 2020, the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) arrested cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed, and two others – Didarul Islam Bhuiyan, an activist of a platform called ‘Rashtrachinta’, and Minhaz Mannan Emon, a businessman – under DSA, allegedly for making anti-Government posts on Facebook, from the capital, Dhaka city.

A total of 11 persons were accused in the case filed under DSA. The seven others accused in the case were Tasnim Khalil, Shahed Alam, Saer Zulkarnain, Ashiq Imran, Phillipp Schuhmacher, Shapan Wahid and Asif Mohiuddin. These seven live outside Bangladesh.


On May 5, 2020, Mahtab Uddin Talukder, Sunamganj District correspondent of private television channel SATV, was arrested from his residence under the DSA for posting a status on his Facebook page allegedly defaming Sunamganj-1 Constituency’s ruling Awami League (AL) Member of Parliament (MP) Moazzem Hossain Ratan.

The MP had been interrogated by Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) officials on February 18, 2020, for his alleged involvement in money laundering and the casino business.

Among various provisions of the Digital Security Act, the followings are the more alarming:


  • Section 17 Punishment for Illegal Entrance in Critical Information Infrastructure, etc.-(1) If any person intentionally or knowingly in any Critical information infrastructure – a. Illegally enters, or b. By means of illegal entrance, harms or destroys or renders inactive the infrastructure or tries to do so, then the above activity of that person will be an offense under the Act. (2) If any person of Sub Section (1) – a. Commits any offense within the Clause (a) then, the person will be penalized by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years or by fine not exceeding BDT 2.5 million or with both. b. Commits any offense within Clause (b) then, the person will be penalized by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years or with fine not exceeding BDT 10 million or with both. (3) If any person commits the offense mentioned in sub-section (1) for the second time or recurrently commits the offense then, he will be punished with life imprisonment or with fine not exceeding BDT 50 million or with both.
  • Section 29 Publishing and distributing defamatory information, etc.-(1) If a person publishes or distributes any defamatory information mentioned in section 499 of the Penal Code (Act XLV of 1860) via a website or any other electronic format, they will get a maximum penalty of 3 years in jail or BDT 5 lakh in fine, or both.
  • Section 32 Offence and penalty for breach of Official Secrets-(1) If a person commits a crime or assists someone in committing a crime under the Official Secrets Act, 1923 (Act No XIX of 1923) via a computer, digital device, computer network, digital network or any other digital media, they will get a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail or BDT 2.5 million in fines or both. (2) If a person commits a crime mentioned in the sub-clause 1 for a second time or repeatedly, they will be sentenced to life in prison or a maximum fine of BDT 10 million, or both.
    In addition to the sweeping provisions themselves, it is the protracted jail sentences prescribed that are a cause of worry and source of intimidation. According to the International Federation for Human Rights, there have been more than 1,000 cases filed under the DSA since it was introduced in 2018.

Indeed, the Sampadak Parishad (Editors’ Council), a nationwide professional association of newspaper Editors, has been protesting against the DSA since it came into effect on October 8, 2018.

The Editors’ Council identified fundamental flaws in the DSA:

  • In trying to make a law to prevent crimes through digital devices and provide security in the digital sphere, the act ends up policing media operations, censoring content and controlling media freedom and freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by our constitution.
  • The act gives unlimited power to the police to enter premises, search offices, bodily search persons, seize computers and networks, servers, and everything related to the digital platforms. According to the Act, the police can arrest anybody on suspicion without a warrant and do not need any approval of any authorities.
  • The act suffers from vagueness and uses many terms that can be misinterpreted and used against the media.
  • DSA will create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation which will make journalism and especially investigative journalism virtually impossible.
  • Other than media professionals, the law will create panic among all users of computers, computer networks, etc.

On June 18, 2019, Asia Internet Coalition, a Coalition of which Facebook, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Yahoo!, among others, are members, pointed out that Bangladesh’s DSA creates several obstacles to the conducive use of the internet ecosystem due to several vague obligations, unchecked powers, disproportionate penalties, and unworkable compliance requirements.

DSA has become a custom-made judicial weapon for silencing ‘troublesome’ journalists and has created an environment of fear and intimidation under which normal functioning of journalists has become extremely risky, if not impossible.

Not surprisingly, since the enactment of DSA, self-censorship has reached unprecedented levels because editors are reluctant to risk imprisonment or the closure of their media outlets.


Further, blocking access to news websites and consequently stifling press freedom is another developing phenomenon in Bangladesh.

In December 2019, authorities in Bangladesh blocked access to Netra News, a Sweden-based investigative journalism portal, within three days of the outlet carrying allegations of corruption against Obaidul Quader, the country’s Minister of Road Transport and Bridges, and General Secretary of the ruling AL.

In March 2019, the Bangladesh Government blocked Al Jazeera’s English news website hours after it published an article detailing the alleged involvement of Tarique Ahmed Siddique, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Security Adviser and head of the Directorate General of Forces Intelligence (DGFI), the country’s military intelligence agency, in the disappearance of three men as part of a business dispute involving his wife.

In December 2018, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had ordered 54 news portals to be blocked to prevent spread of propaganda ahead of the December 30 National Election. In November 2017, Indian news website The Wire was cut off after it published a story on the alleged role of the DGFI in the disappearance of an academic, Mubashar Hasan.

Meanwhile, radical Islamist militants continue to murder journalists and bloggers who dare to defend an overly secular vision of society. According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), a total of at least 36 journalists and bloggers have been killed since the commencement of the 2013 Shahbagh Movement.

The last incident of killing was on June 11, 2018, in which Shahzahan Bachchu (60), an outspoken proponent of secular principles and owner of a publishing house ‘Bishaka Prokashoni’ was gunned down in his ancestral village, Kakaldi in Munshiganj District.

Unsurprisingly, Reporters Sans Frontières, in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index dropped Bangladesh to 151st out of 180 countries – the lowest ranking it has ever received.

It was at the 150th position in 2019 and 146th in 2018.

Legitimate concerns regarding the abuse of the Internet and social media, particularly by extremist and terrorist formations as well as by unscrupulous political and criminal elements, do require legislation for the regulation of these media. But the sweeping provisions of DSA, and the use against journalists carrying out legitimate investigations and reportage, cannot be part of a legitimate response to these concerns.

The arbitrary arrests and a crackdown on freedom of expression under the draconian DSA raise critical questions of intent and accountability of the Government.

Ensuring the freedom of the Media, as well as the safety of media professionals and the civil discourse, both from state intimidation as well as from the threat from radical Islamist forces, even as the state is empowered to act against intentional malfeasance, must be the objective of both legislation and practice with regard to regulation of the Media.

Freedom of the Media and acceptance of criticism are crucial for the survival of democracy in Bangladesh.


Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the personal opinions of the author. League of India does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

Published with permission from South Asia Intelligence Review of the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

S. Binodkumar Singh

Dr S. Binodkumar is a Research Associate at the Institute for Conflict Management. He has done his PhD on "Indo-Bangladesh Relations: Their Impact on the Security of the North East" from the Department of Defence and National Security Studies at Punjab University, Chandigarh.

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ECONOMY-DEVELOPMENT

BANNED: 59 Chinese Mobile Apps That Threaten India’s Sovereignty And Integrity

There have been acute concerns relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of Indians.

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NEW DELHI: The government of India on Monday announced the ban of 59 Chinese apps in the country. A day later one of the most popular short video applications TikTok has been taken down from Apple App Store and also Google Play Store. The government has called the decision “a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace & to safeguard interests of crores of Indian mobile/internet users“.

Also Read:
(1) TikTok Underlines Need For Data Protection Bill
(2) Zoom App IS NOT SAFE: Amit Shah-Headed MHA Issues Advisory For Users

Courtesy: PIB, GoI

Electronics and IT Ministry said in a release that these apps were banned in view of the information available they are engaged in activities which are prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of the country, defence of the country and security of a state and public order.


Geopolitics and international relations (IR) experts believe that the move is an exercise of coercive diplomacy that has, as the starting point, opted for a low-denomination item — mobile app — that has a limited impact on Indian businesses but one that has a disproportionately large presence in the mass consumer segment.

Two months ago, in April, the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade, made it mandatory for foreign direct investment from neighbouring countries to take prior government approval.

This was also aimed at curbing opportunistic takeovers/ acquisitions of Indian companies during times of the Covid-19 pandemic, when valuations were at new lows.


Over the last few years, India has emerged as a leading innovator when it comes to technological advancements and a primary market in the digital space.

At the same time, there have been raging concerns on aspects relating to data security and safeguarding the privacy of 130 crore Indians. It has been noted recently that such concerns also pose a threat to sovereignty and security of the country.

The Ministry of Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about the misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.

The compilation of these data, its mining and profiling by elements hostile to national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India, is a matter of very deep and immediate concern which requires emergency measures.

The Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre, Ministry of Home Affairs has also sent an exhaustive recommendation for blocking these malicious apps.


This Ministry has also received many representations raising concerns from citizens regarding security of data and risk to privacy relating to the operation of certain apps.

The Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) has also received many representations from citizens regarding the security of data and breach of privacy impacting upon public order issues.

Likewise, there have been similar bipartisan concerns, flagged by various public representatives, both outside and inside the Parliament of India.

There has been a strong chorus in the public space to take strict action against Apps that harm India’s sovereignty as well as the privacy of our citizens.

On the basis of these and upon receiving recent credible inputs that such Apps pose threat to sovereignty and integrity of India, the government has decided to disallow the usage of certain Apps, used in both mobile and non-mobile Internet-enabled devices.

The Scale/Impact:

TikTok had nearly 119 million active users in India and was among the top 10 apps on Google Play Store and Apple App Store. Users who still have the TikTok app on their mobile phone can still be able to use it, however, the app can’t be downloaded anymore. Most other Chinese apps banned in India are still available for download.

It must be noted that if you have the app installed on your phone you will still be able to see it on Google Play store. Once you uninstall it the TikTok app will not be visible.

For users who have the TikTok app download can still use the app and post videos but officially the platform is now banned in the country.


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INTERNATIONAL

4 Gunmen Attack Pakistan Stock Exchange Building In Karachi

All four attackers who attempted to storm the Stock Exchange compound in Karachi killed.

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KARACHI (Pakistan): At least four gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange (PSX) building in Karachi on Monday. As per reports, two citizens were killed while three others left injured in the terror attack.  The terrorists launched a grenade attack at the main gate and entered the building after opening indiscriminate firing, reported Geo News.

Initial reports said that four terrorists, a little before 10 am, came out of their vehicle and threw grenades after which they entered the compound and opened fire. At least two civilians have been so far reported dead while multiple injuries have been confirmed.

Police surgeon Dr Qarar Ahmed Abbasi said that five bodies and seven injured, including policemen, have been brought at the Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital Karachi.


PSX Managing Director Farrukh Khan termed the attack as “serious and unfortunate”. While speaking to Geo News, he said the number of people in the compound was lesser than normal due to the Covid-19 situation.

He said that the terrorists had been intercepted outside the entrance and only one of them had entered the compound. None of them entered the trading hall or the building.

The building is in a high-security zone and also houses the head offices of many private banks.


A police officer and a security guard stationed outside the building were among those wounded.

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COVID19

COVID-19 Worldwide: 1,00,00,000 Cases And Mounting

Brazil and the U.S. together represent 49% of the newly reported cases globally.

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GENEVA (Switzerland): In a ghastly reminder to administrations across the world that the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near running its course, the deaths from the coronavirus worldwide topped 500,000 and infections surged past one crore.

A tally compiled by Johns Hopkins University registered the milestone on June 28, after India and Russia added thousands of new cases. The United States has confirmed more than 25 lakh infections, the most in the world.

The global number of reported coronavirus fatalities stands at 500,108, according to figures gathered by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. Meanwhile, the total number of infections worldwide stands at 10,063,319.


Worryingly, Hopkins reports only confirmed coronavirus cases, which many healthcare experts believe could be just about the 10th of the total people infected by the virus. The belief stems from the argument that lakhs and lakhs of people worldwide either do not have means to get tested or are not getting tested because they don’t carry any symptoms.

Though faring better than the world in almost all parameters in its fight against the pandemic, India stands at third position with cases surpassing 5.5 lakh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said his country must focus on bolstering the economy while exiting lockdown.

On June 28, India reported additional 19,906 confirmed cases, taking its total to nearly 529,000 with 16,095 deaths.

The World Health Organization reported almost 190,000 new cases for the 24-hour period through early Sunday, after Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this month that the pandemic has entered “a new and dangerous phase.”


The global epicentre of the coronavirus is continuing to shift. First, it was China, then Europe, and now developing countries with weaker health-care systems like Brazil and India are reeling.

The U.S. and Brazil together represent 49% of all new infections, according to the WHO’s data for the latest 24 hours. Cases from the Americas account for 62% of the 189,077 new infections, followed by 13% from Southeast Asia and 8.8% from Europe.

The country with the second-highest number of recorded cases is Brazil, with a total of 13 lakh, and more than 57 thousand deaths.

Russia reported 6 lakh 633 thousand 542 cases and more than nine thousand deaths so far.

Meanwhile, China has imposed a strict lockdown near Beijing to curb a fresh outbreak. Nearly half a million people will be barred from travelling in and out of Anxin county in the province of Hebei


The first cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed on Jan 10 in Wuhan in China, before infections and fatalities surged in Europe, then the United States, and later Russia.

The total number of cases continued to increase at a rate of between 1-2 per cent a day in the past week, down from rates above 10 per cent in March.

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