Three Years of Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA): Observations and Summary Findings

01 October 2021
No image

Press Release

Centre for Governance Studies (CGS)
Three Years of Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA): Observations and Summary Findings 
September 30, 2021

October 1, 2021, marks the three years of the Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA). In the past three years, the widespread use of the Act, particularly against the critics of the government, has drawn condemnation from the human rights organizations at home and abroad.  Due to the extensive use of this draconian Act, the emergent situation has been described by the Editor’s Council as the ‘nightmare-reality’. The law has severely curtailed the freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Journalists and citizens of various walks of the society have been victimized for speaking out in the cyber space. 

To mark the three years of the law, the CGS is sharing its observations about the use of the law.  Since the introduction of the DSA 2018, the number of cases filed about alleged cybercrimes began to increase significantly. According to press reports, the total number of cases reached the cyber tribunal since 2013 – initially under the Information and Communication (ICT) Act, and later under the DSA – is 4.657. Of these, 925 cases are filed in 2018; 1189 cases in 2019 and 1128 cases in 2020. According to various sources, more than 1500 cases have been filed under the DSA-2018 between January 1, 2020 and September 15, 2021.  Both law enforcement agencies and activists of the ruling party have used and continue to use this draconian law against dissenting voices. 

Data Gathered: The Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) track and document the cases filed under the Digital Security Act 2018 since January 1, 2020. The project is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The principal Investigator of the project is Ali Riaz, a Distinguished Professor at Illinois State University, USA. Until September 7, 2021, the CGS has been able to track details of 668 cases. These data were gathered from government-approved print and electronic media; the accused or their family and friends; the lawyer of the accused; and police stations and other concerned departments. The data are presented and regularly updated at the website: 

Major Findings: 

1.    In the 668 cases, the number of the accused person is 1516, including 142 journalists, 35 teachers, 194 politicians, 67 students. We have been able to identify professions of 571 number of people. About 9.37% of total cases and 24.87% of those whose professions are identified are journalists. 

2.    Among those who have been arrested, the number of journalists is disproportionately higher. Of the 499 arrested persons, 42 are journalists, 55 politicians, and 32 students. Thirteen persons below the age of 18 are charged in the 668 cases we have tracked so far. A ninth-grade student was arrested and sent to a juvenile correction center on June 20, 2020 after being arrested under the DSA 2018 at Bhaluka in Mymensingh; allegedly insulting the Prime Minister on Facebook while commenting on the decision to impose an additional tax on the use of mobile phones. He was sent to a juvenile correctional center. 

3.    Overwhelming majority of these cases are not filed by aggrieved persons but by others, often by ruling party activists for their leaders. The political identity of the accusers that we have been able to identify shows that 85% belongs to the ruling Awami League. Law enforcement agencies have filed 76 cases, almost 20.32% of cases. 

4.    During the period under review, 74 cases have been filed for allegedly defaming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Of these 13 have been filed by the law enforcing agencies while 61 cases have been filed by individuals. Political identity of the 36 accusers have been identified, they are affiliated with the ruling Awami League and its sister organizations. The largest number of cases have been filed for alleged defamation was in April 2021; a total of 13 cases. Previously in June 2020, 11 cases were filed. The second highest number in a single month. A total 44 individuals have been arrested on these charges, two have secured bail.

5.    41 cases have been filed against individuals alleging defamation of ministers, of which only 4 have been filed by aggrieved party or his family, while 34 cases have been filed by other individuals. Seventeen people have been arrested, 3 have secured bail. 

6.    Section 29, Section 25, Section 35 and Section 31 are the most widely used for accusations. Politicians are the largest numbers of accused; followed by journalists. 

7.    The judicial process is extremely slow in trying these cases. Only 2 cases have been settled so far. Mushtaq Ahmed, a writer and social activist, have died in prison on February 25, 2021 while being held under the DSA 2018. 35 people have been granted interim bail. It is also noted that bail petitions of the accused are denied by the lower courts. Mushtaq Ahmed was denied bail six times, one of the co-accused Ahmed Kabir Kishore was granted interim bail in March 2021 after the lower court denied for at least six times. 

8.    There are allegations that many were charged under the DSA after being picked up by plain clothed police and RAB. Kabir Ahmed Kishore alleged that he was picked up three days before he was officially handed over to the RAB. He alleges that during this period, he was severely tortured. He also said that Mushtaq Ahmed was tortured under the custody.

9.    The law stipulates that an investigation report must be submitted within 60 days, with an additional 15 days. If the investigation is not complete within that time, another 30 days are allowed, subject to the approval of the cyber tribunal. But over the past three years, in many cases, the investigation report was not filed within the stipulated time, yet the accused is still in custody and effectively being punished before the trial. For example, Shafiqul Islam Kajol was charged after ten months of being arrested. Kajol was missing for 53 days after the first case was filed. He was found in a border town and was arrested, he languished in jail for seven months as lower court continue to deny bail. 

Principal Investigator of the project Professor Ali Riaz described the above trend as highly disturbing and immensely disconcerting. “It reveals how a law has become a tool of emergent authoritarianism. It is nothing short of criminalizing dissent”. He said, “The wanton use of the law has created a culture fear in Bangladesh. Repealing the law has become necessary.”

Background: The Digital Security Act 2018 (DSA) was passed by the Bangladesh Parliament after 5 controversial sections of the Information and Communication Technology Act/ ICT Act (as amended in 2013) were eliminated. These were Section 54, Section 55, Section 56, Section 57, and Section 66. These provisions were severely criticized by the human rights defenders, students, civil society organizations and the international community. The law came into force on October 1, 2018.

Defining Features of the DSA: The DSA provided the government absolute power to initiate investigations into anyone whose activities are considered a ‘threat’ by the government. The Act provides the law enforcement agencies the power to arrest without a warrant, simply on suspicion that a crime has been committed using social media. It provides the police the power to search and seize without any warrant and oversight.  Also, the Act allows the Government to order the removal and blocking of any information or data on the internet it deems necessary, thereby providing broad scope to silence those critical of its policies or who share information on human rights violations in the country. Since the DSA Act-2018 came into force, journalists, social and human activists, educators, members of civil society, diplomats, and various international organizations strongly objected to nine sections of the law, which they described as detrimental to freedom of speech; these Sections are 8, 21, 25, 28, 29, 31, 32, 43 and 53. They also underscored that these sections are unclear and many of its terms are not defined properly. Out of the 20 provisions of the law that deal with offences and punishments, 14 are non-bailable.  Five are bail-able and one can be negotiated. The lowest punishment is 1 year in prison and the highest life-term but mostly in the range of between 4 and 7 years.  These have been viewed by editors and journalists as recipe for creating a climate of fear. The non-bailable provisions of the law practically allows the accused to be detained for indefinite period. 

সংবাদ বিজ্ঞপ্তি বাংলায় ডাউনলোড করতে Click Here