From now on, police have to take advice from the legal wing of the Police Headquarters before recording any case under section 57 of the ICT Act.
Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque yesterday issued the order, directing all police units to follow it properly.
The order, which comes amid rising number of cases under the section, instructed the officials concerned to demonstrate “utmost cautiousness” in registering cases under the section.
“If any suspicion arises about any complaints, the police station concerned must immediately register a general diary and then verify the authenticity of the allegation,” it said, asking police officials to make sure that no innocent people are harassed.
The order said various media outlets were running stories on cases filed under the section, and some reports alleged due legal process was not followed before taking cases.
Meanwhile, Abdul Latif Morol, the reporter of Khulna-based Daily Probaho who was arrested under the section for sharing a Facebook post over the death of a goat, got bail yesterday.
District Senior Judicial Magistrate Nusrat Jabin gave the bail order, a day after Latif's arrest, said his lawyer Motiar Rahman Mollah.
"We tried to convince court that section 57 is not applicable for the case. This section has been misused by filing this case and the court issued the bail order on Tk 10,000 bond," he told The Daily Star.
Police arrested Latif on Tuesday at his home in Dumuria upazila, hours after he was sued for defamation. Later, a Khulna court sent him to jail.
According to the case filed by Subrata Kumer Fouzder, himself a reporter of Jessore-based daily Spondon, Latif shared a story run by breakingnews.com.bd headlined “Protimantrir sokale deya chhagol raate mrittu” (Goat given by the state minister in the morning dies at night).
In another development, Office-in-charge Sukumar Biswas of Dumuria Police Station was withdrawn from his post for recording the case against the journalist “without following due procedure,” Nizaul Hoque Mollah, Superintendent of Khulna Police told The Daily Star last night.
Police also formed a one-member committee to investigate the whole issue, he added.
Earlier in the day, roads and bridges Minister Obaidul Quader acknowledged that section 57 was being misused.
"Arresting journalists in cases filed over trivial matters is a misuse of section 57," he told a programme in the capital, urging the information minister to step in to stop such misuse.
Journalists have been demanding the repeal of section 57 of the ICT Act 2006 for its “widespread misuse to muzzle freedom of speech and the press”. They say the section has vague wording, allowing it to be used for silencing journalists and social media users.
Amid widespread criticism, Law Minister Anisul Huq on several occasions said the section would be repealed.
However, cases filed under the section are piling up.
Under the ICT Act, police submit either charge sheet or final report upon investigation to the Cyber Tribunal in Dhaka, the lone tribunal to deal with these cases.
The tribunal received 763 reports till July 30 since 2013, when the Act was amended with provisions for harsher punishment, a tribunal source said.
Ninety percent of the cases were filed under section 57, the source added.
“So the total number of cases filed under section 57 would be much higher as this number came at the end of the investigation,” the source said.
Of the 763 cases, 205 have so far been disposed of -- 84 after trial and the rest either after getting final reports or after being withdrawn by plaintiffs, the source said.
The tribunal received 342 reports till July 30 this year. Of the cases, 300 were filed under section 57.
CPJ STANDS BY ABDUL LATIF
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for dropping all charges against journalists and urged the Bangladeshi authorities to drop all charges against Abdul Latif Morol.
“Jailing a journalist for reporting the death of a goat is beyond absurd,” CPJ Asia Programme Coordinator Steven Butler said from Washington, DC. “Abdul Latif Morol should be released immediately, and the Bangladeshi government should urgently heed its pledges to reform the law that makes such abuses of the justice system possible.”