Published: 03 May 2023
World Press Freedom Day 2023
A distinguished panel of speakers at a high-level discussion, jointly organized by Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), UNESCO Dhaka office, and Article-19, emphasized the imperative need to abolish the Digital Security Act to protect fundamental rights on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day.
Esteemed attendees included Susan Vize, Officer-in-Charge of UNESCO Dhaka Office; Gwyn Lewis, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh; Dr. Kamal Uddin Ahmed, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission; Dr. Gitiara Nasreen, Professor at the University of Dhaka; Reaz Ahmad, Executive Editor of Dhaka Tribune; Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua; Alexandra Berg von Linde, Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh; and Anisul Huq, Minister of Law, Justice, and Parliamentary Affairs. TIB Executive Director, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman, moderated the discussion.
The speakers expressed grave concerns over media control and the Digital Security Act, highlighting its misuse to stifle journalists and limit civic space. They argued that the complete repeal of the Digital Security Act was the only viable solution to safeguard fundamental rights, as the Act has been disproportionately used against journalists, undermining the principles of press freedom. Bangladesh's decline in the World Press Freedom Index, ranking 163rd out of 180 countries, further emphasized the urgent need for change.
Despite concerns, Law Minister Anisul Huq reiterated the government's stance of not repealing the Act but pledged to introduce necessary amendments by September. Dr. Iftekharuzzaman vehemently disagreed, emphasizing that the Act posed an unacceptable threat to freedom of the press and fundamental rights. He called for a new cyber security law and expressed deep disappointment with Bangladesh's declining media freedom ranking.
During the discussion, Susan Vize recited a written message from UNESCO Director-General Ms. Audrey Azoulay, emphasizing the vital role of press freedom in fostering democracy and upholding human rights. Dr. Gitiara Nasreen highlighted the importance of true media freedom in amplifying marginalized voices and shaping public opinion. Swedish Ambassador Alexandra Berg Von Linde concurred, affirming Sweden's commitment to supporting press freedom in Bangladesh. Reaz Ahmad emphasized that the Digital Security Act was being used to silence dissenting voices, stressing the need for an environment conducive to media operations.
Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua drew attention to instances where the Act infringed upon citizens' rights and called for its repeal. At the conclusion of the discussion, Dr. Iftekharuzzaman reiterated civil society's rejection of any amendments to the Act and demanded its complete repeal. The event underscored the urgent need to protect press freedom and uphold fundamental rights in Bangladesh.