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Bangladeshi newspaper editors protest digital security law

AP  |  Dhaka 

An influential body of newspaper editors in on Saturday criticised the government for a new that they say will stifle constitutionally protected and curtail press freedom.

Members of the told a conference in the nation's capital, Dhaka, that they were not pleased that the bill was made a law despite their objections.

approved the bill, known as the Digital Security Act, despite promises by three Cabinet ministers and an adviser to Sheikh that they would address the journalists' concerns about some disputed provisions.

Shyamal Dutt, of the daily, said protesters would form a in on Monday to demand changes to the law.

The had postponed a street protest last month after the country's said officials would look into the journalists' concerns.

"There is a Parliament session soon. We hope they will keep their promises and change some provisions," Dutt said at Saturday's conference.

"Our points are very clear, but they did not keep their promises."

Talking to after the conference, Dutt said that the council was not against any cyber security law, but that keeping any ambiguities in the law that would hurt press freedom is not acceptable.

"We will continue to protest," he said.

Observers say the law is part of a broader campaign to silence critics in Bangladesh, and reflects a worrying trend in fledgling Asian democracies.

Journalists in 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.

Such laws in and now in Bangladesh, where democracy was restored in 1990 after a military dictator was ousted, could make it more difficult for journalists to expose corruption.

Bangladeshi journalists are taking particular umbrage with a section of the law that authorises up to 14 years in prison for gathering, sending or preserving classified information of any government using a computer or other

The journalists say publishing such information is a way to hold officials accountable.

The section evokes the sentiment of a British about protecting official secrets.

The law also authorises 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 or disturbs or is about to disturb the law and order situation."

said the law would be ripe for abuse, in part because it would empower police to search or arrest suspects without a court order.

has defended the law, saying it was meant to protect the country from propaganda and misinformation.

"Journalism is surely not for increasing conflict, or for tarnishing the image of the country," she said earlier.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, October 13 2018. 20:00 IST