Friday, 27 April, 2018

Why are Section 19 and Section 57 the same?

Published on: 4:02 pm - Monday | July 10, 2017

Under Section 19, members of law enforcement agencies can search, arrest and confiscate anyone’s property without a warrant, just as in Section 57

The controversial section 57 of the Information Communication Technology Act has been criticised vehemently since its introduction because of the indiscriminate manner in which the provision has been exploited to harass citizens. With the number of cases filed under the section nearing the hundreds, activists and journalists now live in constant fear of it.

At present, the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs are working on transitioning the ICT Act to the Digital Security Act 2017, in order to update the legislation surrounding cyber-crimes. But activists and journalists point out that Section 19 of the proposed law could still affect freedom of expression and the right to dissent.

The ministry is working to finalise the draft by August. The draft committee will consider the opinions of several stakeholders, especially journalists and activists, according to sources at the ICT Division.

The ICT Act has already been called draconian since its implementation and criticised for how loosely it can be interpreted by law enforcement agencies.

A meeting was held at the Secretariat on Sunday where the new law was discussed with various stakeholders.

After the inter-ministry meeting, Minister Anisul Huq told the Dhaka Tribune: “We met with several concerned parties today [Sunday] about the Digital Security Act, to reach a decision on Section 57 of the ICT Act.

“Section 57 of the ICT act will be part of the Digital Security Act.”

The Dhaka Tribune obtained a copy of the draft of the new law. According to Section 19 of the proposed Digital Security Act, if a person deliberately publishes any material in any electronic form that “causes to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or hurt religious beliefs, it is a punishable offence.” Under the proposed draft, an offender can be sentenced to a minimum of two months in prison up to a maximum of 2 years.”

Ministry sources have confirmed that the next meeting to discuss the law will be held sometime in August.

Under Section 19, members of law enforcement agencies can search, arrest and confiscate anyone’s property without a warrant, just as in Section 57.

The law minister’s statement about including the same provisions as Section 57 in the new law has numerous stakeholders worried.

Prof Afsan Chowdhury, senior journalist and teacher at Brac University, who was very recently sued under Section 57, ‍said: “If someone files a case, it should not be accepted immediately without a review; instead the government should hold people responsible for reporting news.”

Prof Afsan also said: “Section 19 could be used to harass journalists. That is the problem with it. If a government cannot deal with the problem, their role will be questioned.

“There should be a press commission for journalists. The press commission and the Ministry of Information ought to jointly investigate allegations against journalists and submit their assessment of the allegation to see if the case is worth filing. Journalists are not the enemy of the government, the government just has to realise it.”

He suggested forming a committee to review the existing cases filed under Section 57.

“The government should investigate all the Section 57 cases filed against us journalists.”

Washiqur Rahman, general secretary of Bangladesh ICT Journalist Forum, said: “Journalists are the major victims of Section 57. We are afraid that anyone could file a case against us for reporting their misdeeds.”

He urged authorities concerned to revise Section 19 and suggested that law enforcement agencies should be more cautious when accepting charges filed under the provision.

Mustafa Jabbar, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services and adviser to the ICT Division, said: “Our main concern is to ensure the provision is not ambiguous in the new law.

“The provision of Section 57 was rather unfortunate. It does not set a good example if police can go ahead and arrest anyone if they are sued under Section 57. Not every offence should be non-bailable or non-cognisable. We have suggested this provision not be included in the new law.”

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