Speakers at a roundtable on Saturday slammed the Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Ordinance 2013 terming it a law of the medieval age as there is a provision of rigorous punishment for minor offences.
They also demanded repeal of the section 57 of the Ordinance arguing that the offences under it were slackly defined with vague terms and punishment as provided appears very harsh.
The speakers also came down heavily on the government for illustrating the prescribed offences as cognisable and non-bailable saying it would make easy the state to repression and harassment as the Ordinance allows the police to arrest any alleged offender without any warrant.
Eight non-government organisations (NGOs), including Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) jointly arranged the roundtable discussion on ‘Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013: Right to Information and Freedom of Expression under threat?’ at the city’s Cirdap auditorium.
The seven other co-organisers are Ain-o-Salish Kendra (ASK), Article 19, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF), Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (BLAST), Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA), Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA) and Institute of Informatics and Development (IID).
Chaired by honorary director of BILIA Dr Shahdeen Malik, the roundtable was addressed, among others, by TIB executive director Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of BLAST Barrister Sara Hossain, ASK Chairperson Dr Hamida Hossain, Professor of Mass Communication and Journalism Department of Dhaka University Dr Geeti Ara Nasrin, Chief Executive of somewhereinblog Syeda Gulshan Ara Ferdous Jana.
Dr Malik said the section 57 should be deleted branding it ‘unconstitutional’.
“Telling lies is a sin according to religions. But it’s just return to the medieval age to keep the provision of 14-year jail terms merely for telling lie,” he added.
To make an ordinance only for toughening the punishment amounts to abuse of power, he said, adding that the extension of criminal law mars democracy.
Dr Iftekhaurzzaman said the people to whom the state belongs now have come under a ‘reign of terror’ through the ICT Act 2006.
He said the main opposition BNP remains silent regarding it (the ordinance). “They perhaps enjoy it as it will enforce the law coming in power soon,” he said.
Barrister Sara Hossain said the principle of proportionality in respect of punishment was not followed in making the ordinance. There is a provision of severe punishment for petty offences, she said.
Dr Hamida Hossain termed undemocratic the ICT Act and its amendment.
On September 2, the Cabinet gave its nod to the ICT (amendment) Ordinance 2013, raising the level of maximum punishment to 14 years from the exiting 10 yeas’ imprisonment. The minimum punishment for the offence under the ICT is seven years’ jail.