No reason for DSA to exist
We are shocked at the heavy-handed legal response to a Jagannath University (JnU) student, Khadijatul Kubra, who has been languishing in jail for over three weeks after being charged under the Digital Security Act (DSA). Since her arrest on August 27, she has been denied bail a total of three times. Her "crime" was hosting a Facebook webinar wherein an expatriate speaker made "contentious" remarks. Reportedly, two separate yet curiously identical cases were filed against Khadija in October 2020, when she was only 17 years old. Both cases, however, showed her to be an adult – one claimed she was 19, the other claiming she was 22.
As with most DSA lawsuits, the very ground of the cases filed against Khadija is also shaky. One could assume that the police knowingly showed her to be of adult age in 2020, and waited for her to legally attain adulthood before submitting the charge sheet.
According to case documents, Khadija and the accused expatriate were apparently trying to "cloud" the existing political situation, engage the general public in anti-government activities, and besmirch the reputation of Bangladesh on the global stage. While the expatriate was sued on similar charges before, we fail to understand how Khadija's pre-scripted questions – "What is your opinion on the deterioration in law and order and social degradation?", "How important is student politics?", and "Do you think BNP is failing to play its role as the opposition?" – could warrant the punishment she has been facing. In what world would such punishment be proportional to her "crime"?
As with most DSA lawsuits, the very ground of the cases filed against Khadija is also shaky. One could assume that the police knowingly showed her to be of adult age in 2020, and waited for her to legally attain adulthood before submitting the charge sheet. This could also have been a way for the police to avoid informing her parents of the charges being filed against her. But why lie about her age? Why go to such lengths to pursue a DSA case? Is it to protect the image of the government? Is that image so flimsy that it can be ruined by a single webinar? We have had similar instances of minors being implicated in DSA cases before, including a 14-year-old boy arrested for "defaming the PM", which only shows the moral nullity of this law.
Our stance regarding this is the same as it always has been: the DSA needs to be abolished. A law that has been mostly used as a tool for muzzling freedom of speech cannot exist in any democracy. Even our post and telecommunications minister, in June, admitted that the DSA had been misused and apologised to the victims. Still, we continue to see law enforcers and ruling party sympathisers using it randomly, causing victims unimaginable sufferings. This needs to stop. As the acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also said recently, the government should ensure freedom of expression and peaceful assembly ahead of the 2023 general election, which includes people's right to express their opinion online. This is an inalienable human right, and no law should have anything to do about it.