Many criticized the matter, saying the government had just modified the ICT Act’s Section 57 and people will still lose freedom of expression because of the new law
The Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT) was approved during the term of BNP-Jamaat government in 2006, but its reported misuse has risen in recent years.
Following massive criticism over the misuse of the Act by different quarters, the government had decided to gradually annul the controversial Section 57 and the ICT Act altogether, and introduce a new law.
The section, however, has made its way in a detailed manner into the draft of the new Digital Security Act 2018, which was given a green light by the Cabinet in January this year.
Many criticized the matter, saying the government had just modified the ICT Act’s Section 57 and people will still lose freedom of expression because of the new law.
If compared, it can be argued that all the controversial issues of Section 57 were left behind in some of the provisions of the new act.
A rough translation of Section 57 of the ICT Act says: “If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in any other electronic form any material which is false and obscene and if anyone sees, hears or reads it having regard to all relevant circumstances, its effect is such as to influence the reader to become dishonest or corrupt, or causes to deteriorate or creates possibility to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organisation, then this activity will be regarded as an offence.”
And for these offences, anyone can be sentenced to maximum 14 years and minimum seven years of imprisonment. The accused can also be fined Tk1 crore or more.
The new Digital Security Act will be used to deal with defamation, hurting religious sentiments, causing deterioration of law and order, and instigation of violence against any person or organization by publishing or transmitting any material on any website or in electronic media.
According the act’s Section 17, if one uses digital media to intimidate people or cause damage to the state, he or she will face a jail time of 14 years or Tk1 crore fine or both.
Section 25 says – if someone uses a website or digital media to intimidate anyone, he or she may face three years in jail or Tk3 lakh fine.
Also, if anyone hurts another’s religious sentiment as defined by the Penal Code, he or she will face 10 years in jail or Tk20 lakh fine or both, says Section 28 of the new act.
As per Section 29, if a person publishes information with the intent to defame someone, he or she will face three years in jail or Tk5 lakh fine or both.
Meaning – all the issues tackled under Section 57 of the ICT Act are still engraved in the Digital Security Act, but in an elaborated manner.
The Indian Supreme Court in 2015 had struck down almost a similar section in the country’s Information Technology Act, terming it unconstitutional.
However, the controversial clauses in Bangladesh’s ICT Act have been redistributed in the new law, despite receiving harsh criticisms from different quarters.
Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said the Digital Security Act was just eyewash. “Some of its sections represent the ICT Act’s Section 57 for all intents and purposes.
“All the provisions from the previous act have merely been redistributed among several sections of the new law. Its approval will ensure that people will lose their freedom of expression.”