‘The End’ of Investigative Journalism in Bangladesh?

Dr. Buddhadeb Halder

Bangladesh has taken a huge burden by opening her door for more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees; and as a ‘poor’ country, Bangladesh rightly deserves the credit for welcoming the Rohingya refugees at a time when ‘rich’ countries were refusing refugees. However, the overall human rights situation within Bangladesh remains a matter of serious concern.

While setting an example for the rest of the world by providing shelters to Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh has approved the draft ‘Digital Security Act 2018’.

On 29th January 2018, the draft ‘Digital Security Act 2018’ was approved at a cabinet meeting chaired by the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. According to Section 32 of the Digital Security Act 2018, the secret recording of any information at any government, semi-government or autonomous institutions is ‘espionage’.

Journalists, activists collect information in various ways. Generally, investigative journalists expose government irregularities by secretly collecting, recording various irregularities at different offices of government, semi-government or autonomous institutions. Under this proposed new law, any one may face the charge of spying if the person tries to collect government documents for writing a report. According to the Section 32, a person may face up to 14 years in jail or BDT 2 million (USD 24,000) fine or both on the charge of spying if the person illegally enters the premises of government, semi-government and autonomous bodies to gather information and data; and uses electronic device to record something secretly. This means the proposed law would help to shrink the scope for reports and/ researchers in their professional and academic activities. This law will make their work more difficult.

In an ‘Accountable Democracy’ every citizen has a right to know. However, it looks the Government of Bangladesh has brought this law to shrink transparency and accountability within the governance system. The Section 32 of the proposed law will also make sure that no crucial information for greater transparency and accountability is out in the public domain. And this will certainly increase various irregularities and also chances to misuse of power at the offices of the government, semi-government or autonomous institutions.

Also, the Section 34 of the Draft Digital Security Act 2018 proposes that a person may face up to 14 years in jail or BDT 10 millions or both for ‘hacking’. Considering the gravity of crimes, the new law proposes some crimes under Section 32 and 34 as “non-bailable”. If the draft is passed, the legislation would allow Bangladesh Government to frame espionage charges against anyone investigating corruption or conduct research on corruption or any other irregularities that may put the government in an awkward situation.

Present political environment is gradually narrowing down free voices; and the activities of journalists, activists and free thinkers in Bangladesh.  And, if the Draft Digital Security Act 2018 is passed, it would be the last ‘nail in the coffin’ that will contribute to ‘the end’ of investigative journalism in Bangladesh.

 

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