Bangladesh to amend law on ICT amid criticism it curbs freedom of speech, rights

Law Minister Anisul Huq has said the Information and Communication Technology Act will be amended.

Published : 9 June 2015, 02:12 PM
Updated : 9 June 2015, 02:52 PM

Several rights bodies and online activists have spoken of their concerns over several sections of the Act.

“The law had a different value when it was introduced in 2006 but its appeal has changed over time,” Huq told a programme in Dhaka on Tuesday.

“We’ll amend several of its sections by the end of this year.”

Rights organisations have flayed sections 46, 57, and 71 of ICT Act, 2006, saying these curb “freedom of speech”.

Section 46 gives authorities powers to prevent broadcast of any element that threatens the sovereignty, unity and safety or Bangladesh’s relations with other countries.

Section 57 says if information published on websites encourages dishonesty, offends anyone, or tarnishes image of the state or any person, it will be considered a crime.

The offence is punishable by 14 years of imprisonment and a maximum Tk 10 million in fines.

Section 71 details conditions for bailing accused at the cyber crimes tribunal.

Protesters say these sections allow police to arrest anyone at any time.

‘Article 19’ organised Tuesday’s interaction with MPs, attended by State Minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak, among others.

Tahmina Rahman, director for Bangladesh and South Asia at Article 19, said, “Section 46 and 57 of the ICT Act violate human rights. They have created a huge obstacle to freedom of speech.”

The Act was amended in 2009 and 2013 but critics say it still falls short of international standards.

Minister Huq admitted some issues with Section 57.

“There are definition issues in Section 57 of the ICT Act apart from some inconsistencies,” he said. “These are amendable.”

IT expert Mostofa Jabbar said the law was not suitable for Bangladesh and that new laws were needed to tackle cyber crimes.

Huq said another law will be formulated to prevent cyber crimes, which will conform to the Constitution and meet global standards.

Dhaka University teacher Mohammad Mahabubur Rahman pointed out that the punishment described in Section 57 was inconsistent with many sections of the Bangladesh Penal Code.

A general crime would invite a four-year prison term while the same offence is punishable by 14 years under the ICT Act.

State Minister Palak differed.

“Online crimes have more influence than offline ones. That’s why the punishment is big,” he explained.

Palak said modern laws were needed to control online activities and their absence was encouraging criminals.

“The ICT Division is preparing a draft law to prevent such activities,” Palak said.