Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called on Bangladesh to immediately suspend its application of the Digital Security Act.
“I am concerned that the Digital Security Act is being used across Bangladesh to arrest, harass and intimidate journalists and human rights defenders, and to muzzle critical voices online,” he said in a statement on Friday.
“I call again on the authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on its use and to reform comprehensively its provisions to bring them in line with the requirements of international human rights law. My Office has already provided detailed technical comments to assist with such a revision.”
More than 2,000 cases have been brought under the Act, which came into force on Oct 1, 2018, according to the statement.
It mentioned the arrest of Prothom Alo journalist Samsuzzaman Shams in a case under the act for his independence day report on price rises, and the charges brought against its Editor Matiur Rahman for the same story.
In February, a young man, Poritosh Sarkar, was sentenced to five years in prison under this law after being accused of hurting religious sentiments in a post on Facebook.
“My Office has consistently raised concerns about the overly broad and ill-defined provisions of the Digital Security Act,” Türk said.
“The government has promised there will be safeguards against the arbitrary or excessive application of the law but that is not enough when arrests continue. The law itself needs a proper overhaul.”
The high commissioner called for the creation of an independent judicial panel to review all pending cases brought under the Digital Security Act with a view to those accused being released.
Türk also reiterated his concern about the ongoing trial of Adilur Rahman Khan and Nasiruddin Elan from the now de-registered Odhikar human rights organisation, accused of falsely reporting about alleged human rights violations in a case dating back to 2013.