Journalists slam Bangladesh digital security law

Bangladesh journalists hold a protest against the recently passed Digital Security Act. (AFP)
Updated 28 September 2018

Journalists slam Bangladesh digital security law

  • A powerful body of editors of leading newspapers and TV stations has officially protested the bill, called the Digital Security Act
  • Observers say the bill is part of a broader campaign to silence critics in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Journalists and human rights groups are demanding major amendments to a bill recently passed in Bangladesh’s Parliament, saying it will further choke constitutionally protected freedom of speech.
A powerful body of editors of leading newspapers and TV stations has officially protested the bill, called the Digital Security Act, and plans to form a human chain to protest Saturday in front of the national press club in Dhaka.
“We are moving toward a bad time. This law will hurt the media, democracy and freedom of expression,” said Khandakar Muniruzzaman, acting editor of the Bengali-language daily Sangbad and among those planning to participate in the protest Saturday.
Senior editors, journalist groups and human rights groups in and outside Bangladesh are echoing these concerns, demanding that lawmakers clarify sections of the bill they say could be wielded arbitrarily against government critics before the president signs it.
In Bangladesh, the president customarily signs anything passed by Parliament. He can send it back to Parliament, but if members think no changes are needed, it will go back to him for a signature. If the president does not sign it in six months, it automatically becomes law.
The bill would replace a previous information communication technology law, which was also criticized by journalists and human rights groups for its alleged use to crack down on dissent. Many editors and reporters have been sued for defamation under the law.
Observers say the bill is part of a broader campaign to silence critics in Bangladesh, and reflects a worrying trend in fledgling Asian democracies.
Journalists in Nepal are combating a similar law, part of an expansive rewriting of that country’s civil and criminal codes meant to define the parameters of Nepal’s new constitution.
Laws like the one recently passed in Nepal and the one pending in Bangladesh, where democracy was restored in 1990 after the military dictator was ousted, could make it more difficult for journalists to expose corruption.
Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who political opponents decry as an autocrat, defended the bill in Parliament last week, saying that it was meant to protect the country from propaganda.
“Journalism is surely not for increasing conflict, or for tarnishing the image of the country,” she said.
Bangladeshi journalists are taking particular umbrage with a section of the bill that authorizes up to 14 years in prison for gathering, sending or preserving classified information of any government using a computer or other digital device. The journalists say publishing such information is a way to hold officials accountable. The section evokes the sentiment of a British colonial-era law about protecting official secrets.
The bill would also authorize prison sentences of up to three years for publishing information that is “aggressive or frightening” and up to 10 years for posting information that “ruins communal harmony or creates instability or disorder or disturbs or is about to disturb the law and order situation.”
Government officials have listed incidents in recent years in which false social media posts about people disrespecting the Qur’an have incited violence.
Critics of the bill say existing criminal laws adequately address these concerns.
Fears of the broad reach of the bill extend beyond journalists.
Human Rights Watch said the law would be ripe for abuse, in part because it would empower police to search or arrest suspects without a court order.
“Bangladesh authorities have failed to address serious human rights violations, and when criticized, chosen to target the messenger,” spokeswoman Meenakshi Ganguly told The Associated Press.
“Bangladeshi journalists, already under pressure, will now worry about doing their job in exposing government failures,” she said.
Some critics say introducing such a law a few months before general elections, which are expected in December, could also target opposition activists and candidates.
Bangladesh’s main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, or BNP, has said the bill is intended to silence its members. Party leader former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, an archrival of Hasina, is currently in jail for corruption. Her supporters say her jailing is politically motivated, an allegation authorities have denied.
An election-time government is expected to be formed in mid-October that Hasina is supposed to head in line with the constitution, but the opposition says an election under Hasina could be rigged. The opposition wants a non-partisan caretaker government to oversee the elections.
The opposition says their activists are facing thousands of politically-motivated criminal charges, but police say they are following the law, without regard to suspects’ political affiliations.


Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

Updated 23 August 2019

Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Google on Thursday said it disabled a series of YouTube channels that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The announcement by YouTube’s parent company came after Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s protest movement and sow political discord in the city.
Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that it found behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Huntley said in an online post.
Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to a coordinated influence campaign. Twitter said it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.
Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Daesh group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
China has “taken a page from Russia’s playbook” as it uses social media platforms outside the country to wage a disinformation campaign against the protests, according to the non-profit Soufan Center for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues.
“Beijing has deployed a relentless disinformation campaign on Twitter and Facebook powered by unknown numbers of bots, trolls, and so-called ‘sock puppets,’” the center said on its website, referring to fake online identities created for deception.
“China’s behavior will likely grow more aggressive in both the physical and virtual realms, using on-the-ground actions to complement an intensifying cyber campaign characterized by disinformation, deflection, and obfuscation.”

Misused by autocratic regimes
While social media platforms have been tools for people to advocate for rights, justice or freedom in their countries, the services are being turned on them by oppressive governments, according to the Soufan Center.
“Autocratic governments are now using these same platforms to disparage demonstrators, divide protest movements, and confuse sympathetic onlookers,” the center said.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.
China’s government has publicly largely left the city’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis, but behind the scenes online, Beijing is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.
It said it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.
Because of the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
Facebook said it had acted on a tip from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.