UN rights body’s recommendations on DSA not reflected in CSA: Irene Khan
The technical recommendations made by the UN rights body concerning the Digital Security Act have not been reflected in the draft Cyber Security Act, UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression Irene Khan has said in a letter to the government.
The recommendations, sent by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in June 2022, included repealing Sections 21 and 28.
Section 28 punishes publication of information that "hurts the religious values or sentiment".
Section 21 criminalises "any kind of propaganda or campaign against the liberation war, spirit of liberation war, father of the nation, national anthem or national flag." According to Section 2(u), the "spirit of liberation war" refers to "the high ideals of nationalism, socialism, democracy and secularism which inspired our heroic people to dedicate themselves to, and our brave martyrs to sacrifice their lives in, the national liberation struggle".
"International human rights law protects individuals from intolerance, violence and discrimination based on their religion or belief, but it does not allow restriction of criticism of religious belief or sentiment, or lack of respect for religion," said Khan in her letter sent on August 28, sent under the mandate of the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
"Furthermore, the imprecise language of the provisions would risk encouraging human rights abuses in the name of religion and would be inconsistent with the requirements of legal certainty under international law," said Khan.
She said Section 28 should be removed.
Khan also pointed out that criticism of state authorities, including the head of the state, and diverse views relating to a state's flag, national symbols or historical events are legitimate expressions, protected by international law.
"While appreciating the Government's desire to protect the distinct national historical legacy of Bangladesh, the vague and broadly framed nature of this provision could lead to unlawful restriction of political expression and is not consistent with international law," said Khan in her letter.
"I encourage the government to promote respect for the liberation struggle, the martyrs, and national symbols and values through enhanced public education, awareness programmes and community based activities, instead of pursuing criminalisation," she added.
Khan also recommended that the government replace criminal defamation in the Cyber Security Act and in the Penal Code with a clear, narrowly defined provision on civil defamation, to limit the claim only to those who are directly affected, and to include public interest in the subject matter and truth as valid defences.
Section 29 on criminal defamation and Section 25 on "offensive, false or threatening data-information" of the DSA have been used frequently to detain those criticising the government, she pointed out.
"While international law permits the restriction of speech to protect the reputation of others, it should be done through civil litigation by individuals, and not through prosecution by the state under criminal law.
"The criminalisation of 'offensive or false information' (Section 25) is both contrary to international law standards and ineffective in combating disinformation and misinformation. The right to freedom of expression applies to all kinds of information and ideas, including those that may shock, offend or disturb," she said
Access to plural, diverse sources of information, including independent, diverse and pluralistic media, and digital and media literacy of the public have proven to be more effective against false information than criminalization and censorship, added Khan.