The Section 57 has put Bangladesh’s news media on a dicey situation, forcing them to walk a tightrope between publishing independent reports and views, and facing the specter of Section 57 hanging over their heads
Shamim A. Zahedy
Before meting out punishment for an offence, it is a fundamental principle of jurisprudence to define first the crime for which a person or persons are to be penalised, making sure that it is not a jungle rule. Take an example: theft is a crime and it is defined in Section 378 of the Penal Code, 1860: “whoever, intending to take dishonestly any moveable property out of the possession of any person without that person’s consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.” For the much-talked-about Section 57 of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) Act 2006 that later went through changes to be named as ICT (Amendment) Act-2013 increasing the highest punishment to 14 years from minimum 7 years, it lacks clarity when it comes to the definition of the offence. “If any person, willingly publishes or broadcasts any material on website or any other electronic form that is false and vulgar, or given the situation upon reading, writing or listening to that material, any person can become derailed or dishonest, or which causes defamation, worsen or create the possibility to worsen the law and order situation, damage a person’s or state’s image, or harm or may harm religious feelings, or provocation is instigated upon any person or organization through these materials, then his/her such act will be a crime,” according to the English translation of Section 57 by https://chorjapod.wordpress.com.
Independent legal experts have argued that the crime activities mentioned in the Section 57 have loosely been defined against the spirit of criminal law’s ‘principle of certainty’, opening the floodgates for confusion, bewilderment and perplexity.
It is really a relative concern if a post in websites or in social media tarnishes ‘a person or state’s image’, only giving a rise to the concern that this Section 57 or the ICT act as a whole, which makes the crime non-bailable, is aimed at gagging the dissemination of information.
To be honest, there has been no definition of phrases such as ‘tarnish on reputation’ or ‘hurting sensitivity’. It is very much relative. For an example: Mr ABC in a facebook post says a particular product is world class while in reply Mr XYZ says the product is actually below standard, giving a scope for Mr ABC to file for libel case against Mr XYZ.
The wordings in the section — ‘any material on website or any other electronic form that is false and vulgar, or given the situation upon reading, writing or listening to that material’ — are omnipresent, widespread and demoniac. What will be the perspective to brand a criticism or sarcasm as false and vulgar? And what is the basis of the phrase ‘given the situation’ for that matter? The phrases seem completely arbitrary and discretionary.
Section 57 outlines the scope of cyber crime wide and open, making any innocent online posting vulnerable to abuse. If the authorities think a post has provoked anyone to become derailed or dishonest, the post will come under the scanner.
Ahmed Razu of natunsomoy.com is the latest victim of a long list of people who were harassed, mistreated, victimized and persecuted since the draconian law was introduced in 2006, giving a damn to free thinking and freedom of speech.
Razu was arrested and put on police remand after he published news reports, saying Walton products are not good. Walton, the company that sells electrical, electronics, and other appliances, filed the case.
There had been many other ways, including a defamation suit under Section 499 of Penal Code, 1860 with a provision of jail term up to two years, for Walton to react to the reports. But it conveniently resorted to ICT Act, thanks to its Section 57 only to ‘nip the criticism in the bud’.
The Section 57 has put Bangladesh’s news media on a dicey situation, forcing them to walk a tightrope between publishing independent reports and views, and facing the specter of Section 57 hanging over their heads. Apart from online news portals, all most all media outlets in Bangladesh, be it a newspaper, a television channel, or a radio station, have their online versions with the contents varying from their primary print or broadcast versions.
When in 1991 Shahabuddin Ahmed government scrapped the Section 16 of the Special Powers Act 1974, it worked as a huge relief to free journalism in Bangladesh. But now this particular Section 57, which is contrary to the spirit of the country’s constitution, works as a huge threat to the free press in Bangladesh.
This Section 57 just aims to choke the truth, not to check lies and falsehood. Immediate annulment of the section is the long-term solution to the cause of overall freedom of speech, both for individuals and institutions.
First appeared: 8 May, 2017 08:42:39 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 11 June, 2017 04:03:25 PM