The government should not enact the recent amendment to the Information and Communication Technology Law, 2006 and its section 57, speakers at a roundtable observed yesterday.
Present in the discussion, Shahdeen Malik said the government should eliminate section 57 from the ICT act, as the clause would push the country back to the medieval age.
On August 19, the cabinet approved the draft ICT (Amendment) Ordinance-2013 proposing to empower law enforcers to arrest without warrant anyone who breaks the law and increasing the minimum jail term for the offence to seven years and maximum punishment to 14 years.
The next day the amendment was published in a gazette notification.
According to section 57 of the act, if any person deliberately publishes any material in electronic form that causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or a person, or hurt religious belief, he or she will be punished. The crime is non-bailable.
In the original ICT Act, 2006, enacted by the then BNP-Jamaat government, the maximum punishment for such offences was 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of Tk 1 crore. Besides, police had to seek permission from the authorities concerned to file a case against and arrest any person involved in crimes covered under the law.
In the recent times, Amar Desh editor Mahmudur Rahman, rights organisation Odhikar's secretary Adilur Rahman, bloggers Asif Mohiuddin, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, Subrata Adhikari Shuvo and Rasel Parvez have been arrested in cases filed under the ICT act.
Yesterday's roundtable styled "Right to Information and Freedom of Expression under Threat" was held in the capital's Cirdap auditorium.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB), Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA), Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), Article 19, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association and Institute of Informatics and Development jointly organised the discussion.
Shahdeen Malik, honorary director of BILIA, chaired the session.
He said punishment for lying had been abolished from the world 200 years ago, but the government was creating such law again which was also against the secular concept of the state.
TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said the parliament session was supposed to start very soon, but the amendment had been published as ordinance before that raising concern among the people.
"It would not be a problem if our law enforcers were professional enough or could work under no political influence. There is no assurance that the law will not be abused," he said.
The opposition parties were not saying a single word about it perhaps thinking to use it in future against those who are now in the government, he assumed.
Advocate ZI Khan Panna said, "The law ministry has prejudiced the state's image by publishing such a law."
He said the creators of the law might take to the streets in future for the removal of their own written law, as any other government could use it against them (the current government).
All the participants of the discussion were against the law, especially the section 57 and the amendment that was published as ordinance last month.
Human rights activists Hamida Hossain urged the media to publish or telecast news or views against the law so that the government removes the section 57.
Sara Hossain, lead discussant of the event, said the law needed to be specific so that people could understand it clearly, otherwise it can be declared as non-constitutional.
The arbitrary law also imposes heavy punishment for minor crimes. Facebook users or writers would feel reluctant to express freely, she said.