Anyone spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation, using digital devices, will risk being sentenced to life in prison, according to the draft of a new law.
The draft of Digital Security Act-2016 also stipulates two-year imprisonment for "deliberately" defaming someone or hurting anyone's religious sentiment by publishing or broadcasting something through digital devices.
The ICT Division has prepared the draft, as the government wants a new law to ensure national digital security and prevent rising digital crimes.
In April, the draft was sent to the Cabinet Division after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who also holds the portfolio of posts, telecommunications and information technology, gave the go-ahead for it to be placed before the cabinet.
The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the draft law.
The government move comes when the country already has Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act-2006 in effect. Besides, Liberation War Crimes Denial Act-2016 has been drafted to check distortion and denial of established historical facts related to the war.
Several provisions of the proposed Digital Security Act are similar to those in the ICT law and the proposed Liberation War Crimes Denial Act, with differences only in the degree of punishment.
Article 39 of the Constitution
Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology Act
501. Whoever prints or engraves any matter, knowing or having good reason to believe that such matter is defamatory of any person, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Section 19 (2)(3) of Digital Security Act
Liberation War Crimes Denial Act
The Penal Code too provides for punishment for hurting someone's religious sentiment or defaming anyone, lawyers say.
Talking to The Daily Star, Law Minister Anisul Huq explained the rationale for enacting the digital security act.
“Cyber crimes now have become a global threat. We need a modern law to combat them. We feel the necessity of enacting a new law even more now after the Bangladesh Bank heist," he said.
Experts, however, say having different punishments for similar offences under different laws would create problem in enforcement of the laws.
“Besides, several sections in the digital security act contain vague wordings, leaving room for misuse or misinterpretation,” Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer who works on human rights, told The Daily Star.
According to section 57(1) of the ICT Act, “If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in electronic form any material which is fake and obscene or its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, or causes to deteriorate or creates possibility to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the State or person or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organisation, then this activity of his will be regarded as an offence.”
For this offence, the maximum punishment is 14 years' imprisonment.
Rights activists have been pressing for the repeal of section 57 and their demand has grown louder after last year's arrest of senior journalist Probir Sikdar under the provision.
But the law minister said the section will remain, even after the enactment of the digital security law.
However, the draft of digital security act says a person may face a maximum sentence of two years in jail or Tk 2 lakh fine or both if he or she is found to have deliberately published or broadcast something false or obscene and something that pollutes human mind, defames someone and hurts religious sentiment of someone.
Nur Khan Liton, acting executive director of rights body Ain o Salish Kendra, said instead of repealing section 57 despite public outcry, the government is going to formulate a new law that has a similar section. “The space for discussion will shrink because of such attitude of the government,” he added.
After preparing the draft of the Liberation War Denial Crimes Act-2016, Bangladesh Law Commission handed it over to the law ministry on March 22 for the next course of action.
The proposed legislation says the distortion or denial, by any means, of any of the events that took place between March 1 and December 16, 1971, will be an offence and one may face a maximum sentence of five years' imprisonment for the offence. In addition to jail term, one may be fined up to Tk 1 crore.
Yet, the draft of the digital security law proposes punishment up to life imprisonment or a fine of Tk 1 crore or both if anyone through any electronic device spreads negative propaganda against the Father of the Nation or the Liberation War or the spirit of the war or war-related issues settled by the court. There will be the same punishment for helping anyone commit the offence.
Jyotirmoy Barua said it's like imposing a “blanket ban” and such a law will ultimately stop constructive discussion, going against article 39 of the constitution, which guarantees a citizen's right to freedom of speech and expression.
Nur Khan said, “If the government passes the [digital security] law, people might see it as a weapon to suppress dissenting views.”
SOME OTHER PROVISIONS
According to the draft of the Digital Security Act, the government will form a Digital Security Agency under ICT Division to ensure national digital security. A director general will lead the agency.
To discuss the overall digital security of the country and to take “nationally important decision” over the issue, there will be a National Digital Security Council headed by the prime minister, the draft reads.
The director general of the Digital Security Agency, through gazette notification, will declare some specific computer systems, networks and information infrastructures, which are related to national security and people's economic and social welfare, as “Essential Information Infrastructures”.
“If someone commits any offence against the Essential Information Infrastructures, then he or she has to face maximum 14 years and minimum two years in jail or maximum fine of Tk 1 crore or both.”
A person my face highest five years in jail or Tk 3 lakh fine or both if he/she deliberately commits digital forgery or gets involved in “computer-related cheating”, the draft said.
It would be an offence if someone enters or intends to enter or block and harms or intends to harm someone's computer or computer programme or system or network or digital device to endanger the integrity, public security and sovereignty of the county or creates panic to prevent the government or a company or an individual from discharging their duties.
One may face highest 14 years' imprisonment or Tk 1 crore fine or both for the offences, reads the draft.
If someone produces or publishes or stores or distributes pornography using computer or computer programme or digital system or network, he or she may face highest seven years jail or Tk 5 lakh fine or both. In case of child pornography, the punishment will be maximum 10 years in jail or Tk 10 lakh fine or both.
All crimes under the law will be bailable and law enforcers will need a warrant before searching or confiscating any electronic devices.
But, in special cases, law enforcers can search, confiscate or even arrest someone without a warrant in presence of an executive magistrate, it said.
If anyone commits these offences inside Bangladesh through computer devices, network or system from abroad, he or she will be punished under this law. Similarly, it will be punishable if anyone commits these crimes abroad from inside the country.