Bangladesh’s president on Monday signed into law a controversial digital security bill amid protests that it could endanger freedom of speech, reported The Dhaka Tribune. President Abdul Hamid gave his assent to the Digital Security Bill, 2018, his press secretary Joynal Abedin confirmed.

Last month, the parliament passed the legislation to deal with cyber crimes, including spreading content that hurts religious sentiments or is negative propaganda against the Liberation War and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Illegal activities in e-transactions and spreading defamatory data are also covered under the law.

If accused persons are found guilty of illegally accessing and destroying important information related to state affairs, they can be jailed for seven to 14 years and may have to pay fines between 25 lakh taka and 1 crore taka (around Rs 21.8 lakh to Rs 87.5 lakh), or both. The new legislation also empowers the police to search, confiscate or make arrests without a warrant.

The legislation has been opposed by the Editors’ Council, which said the Act will “create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, which will make journalism, and especially investigative journalism, virtually impossible”.

The opposition Bangladesh National Party on Monday rejected the legislation and described it as a “black law”.

“We do not accept the law,” said party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir. “In fact, we do not accept any law of this government as those were passed in a Parliament that is not legitimate.”

While the Awami League government had assured the Editors’ Council of making changes to a few controversial sections of the Act, the Sheikh Hasina-led government passed it without any amendment, claimed Fakhrul.

Hasina has defended the law on the grounds that journalists would have nothing to worry about if they did not publish fabricated news or misled the people. “Journalists who are not opting for false news or wrong information have no need to worry about the new law,” BDNews24 quoted her as saying. “But those who have readied write-ups against us and are waiting to publish them regularly should be concerned.”