From now on, Jahangirnagar University authorities can expel a student for life if he or she publishes or broadcasts any “false” and “distorted” news about the university in local, national or international print and electronic media, or on social media.
Similar punishment will be applicable to the students who would assist in publishing or broadcasting such news.
The punishment has been incorporated into the university’s code of discipline recently. In the revised code, two sub-sections were added under section-5. They deal with the conduct of students and campus journalists. It was passed by the syndicate on April 5.
Another newly-added sub-section says no student can send any “obscene” or “discourteous” message to any student, teacher, official and other employee via telephone, mobile, email, and internet, or stalk them this way.
The university took the initiative of updating the code after the High Court, in an observation, called it “outdated” in 2016. On May 16, the same year, a five-member committee was formed in this regard with then pro-vice chancellor Prof Abul Hossain as head.
According to the revised code, any violation of the two sub-sections will be treated as “misconduct”, and the violators will have to face a maximum punishment of lifetime expulsion and a minimum penalty of Tk 5,000 in fine.
As the matter came to the fore yesterday, it triggered widespread outcry among students, university-based journalists, student bodies, and a section of teachers.
They criticised the revised code as “controversial”, and said it would “suppress the freedom of expression”. The new rules are “regressive”, “arbitrary” and “undemocratic”, they said.
JU senate member and Supreme Court lawyer Barrister Shihab Uddin Khan said, “The two sub-sections go against the spirit of the constitution as envisaged in Article 39 and 40 as they relate to freedom of speech and expression, and of profession.
“It will definitely frighten students and create panic. Importantly, it will affect investigative reporting and restrict press freedom. In absence of categorical definitions of each of the components of the said restrictions, it might be used as a tool of oppression and political victimisation,” he said.
He called upon the university syndicate to send the draft back to the academic council and make necessary amendments through deletion of the sub-sections.
“It’s just an imitation of the Digital Security Act,” said Rayhan Rayne, an associate professor of philosophy at JU. “It would suppress the freedom of expression of students in multiple ways. As the authorities will have the final say about what is true or false, there are chances it would be misused.”
Asked, JU Acting Proctor ASM Firoz-Ul-Hasan, said, “The university disciplinary board will decide what is false or distorted news. The board consists of all deans, hall provosts, and administrative bodies.”
Rakib Ahmed, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at JU, said the university cannot punish a journalist. “If a journalist publishes false news or distorted information, the authorities should protest in a conventional way.”
When a campus reporter writes a report, they do it as journalist, not as student, he said.
Rakib also said the authorities should elaborate what they actually mean by the term “discourteous”.
JU Journalists Association President Plabon Tarique said, “The two sub-sections reflect the autocratic attitude of the university administration. It is just a way to prevent independent journalism in the university.”
He demanded scrapping of the sub-sections at the earliest.
This is like a “black law”, added Ariful Islam Anik, general secretary of JU Chhatra Union. “Its aim is to muzzle students and journalists.”
Fahmidul Huq, a professor of mass communication and journalism at Dhaka University, said the sub-sections run counter to the spirits of the university where students learn how to ask questions. They also undermine the spirits of the university act and free journalism, he said.
“If the university authorities try to control campus journalism, it will hamper the environment of free journalism.”
JU Pro-VC (education) Prof Nurul Alam said, “We never said that if journalists write something against the university administration, we would bring them to book.”
If someone has objection about the revised code, amendments can be made, he said. “We will review it, if necessary, after discussion with stakeholders.”