The US has urged Bangladesh to revise its controversial new law that puts restrictions on the media and bring it into conformity with the country's international commitments on human rights and political freedom.
Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid on Monday signed into law the new Digital Security Act which combines the colonial-era Official Secrets Act with tough new provisions such as arrests without a warrant.
Some of its draconian provisions include a jail sentence of up to 14 years for spreading 'propaganda' about Bangladesh's 1971 war for independence from Pakistan, as well as a three-year sentence for publishing information that is 'aggressive or frightening'.
"We encourage the Government of Bangladesh to revise the law to bring it into conformity with Bangladesh's international commitments on human, civil, and political rights," a State Department spokesperson told PTI.
The law, which among other things incorporates measures restricting activities of the media personnel, has drawn wide-spread criticism both at home and abroad, including from human rights organisations, United Nations and European Union.
"While we recognise the need to protect digital security, we share the strong concerns of the international community that Bangladesh's Digital Security Act could be used to suppress and criminalise free speech, to the detriment of Bangladesh's democracy, development and prosperity," the State Department Spokesperson said.
The US also urged Bangladesh to revise the law so as to ensure that it provides for checks and balances against arbitrary arrest and other undue restrictions imposed on the right to legitimate exercise of freedom of expression.
"The United States values freedom of expression, including online expression, as a key component of democratic governance," the spokesperson said.
"The new Digital Security Act is a tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country's obligations under international law to protect free speech," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
In a recent joint statement, the heads of mission of the EU member states, the European Union delegation and the heads of mission of Norway and Switzerland, said the law unduly restrict the freedom of expression and the freedom of the media and undermine judicial procedural guarantees.
It called upon the Bangladeshi government to continue consultations on the law and pursue the commitments taken during the Universal Periodic Review last May so as to ensure that the Digital Security Act will be in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Constitution of Bangladesh.
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