The cabinet yesterday approved a draft law proposing punishment up to life imprisonment for spreading negative propaganda through digital devices against the Liberation War and the Father of the Nation.
An offender could also face a fine of Tk 1 crore, instead of life imprisonment, or both for committing the offence.
The punishment would be the same for anyone patronising the offender, according to the proposed law titled “Digital Security Act 2016”.
The draft law, however, doesn't say what actions would be considered as propaganda against the Liberation War and Bangabandhu.
Presiding over the weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina directed the law minister to scrutinise the proposed law, the ICT Act and other relevant laws to make sure there is no repetition, contradiction or inadequacy in the new law.
She also asked him to include in the new law a tougher provision for checking pornography and a provision for introducing e-signature for government documents, cabinet sources told The Daily Star.
“The aim of the new law is to check cybercrime,” Cabinet Secretary Mohammad Shafiul Alam told reporters after the meeting at the secretariat.
Talking to The Daily Star, former law minister Shafique Ahmed said a law must define what actions would be considered as offences.
He also said the law (Digital Security Act 2016) should have been enacted much earlier.
Nur Khan Liton, acting executive director of rights body Ain o Salish Kendra, said a law must clearly state its purview, otherwise there would be scope for misuse of the law.
“We hope the government will specify the law's jurisdiction before giving the final nod,” he added.
The country already has Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act 2006 that deals with cyber offences with stringent punishment.
Besides, the Liberation War Crimes Denial Act 2016 has been drafted to check distortion and denial of established historical facts related to the 1971 war.
The cabinet secretary said four provisions -- 54 to 57 -- would be omitted from the ICT Act and then included in the Digital Security Act 2016.
There was inadequacy in the ICT Act, and for this the new law has been framed with a wider perspective for ensuring digital security, he said.
The proposed law provides for a maximum sentence of 14 years' imprisonment and Tk 1 crore fine or both for hacking or attacking any important cyber establishments or infrastructure such as Biman Cyber Management.
It includes another provision of a maximum penalty of 14 years and a minimum of two years in prison and also a fine of up to Tk 1 crore or both for cyber terrorism.
Actions that may affect Bangladesh's unity and hinder other countries' security or help and encourage someone to commit terrorist activities would be considered as cyber terrorism, he said.
According to the proposed law, if anyone commits crimes using a computer, a mobile or any digital device, the person would face a maximum punishment of five years and a minimum of two years in jail and Tk 3 lakh fine or both.
For cheating or committing a forgery through computers, mobile phones or other electronic devices, an offender could face a maximum penalty of five years and a minimum of three years in prison and a fine of Tk 3 lakh or both.
The proposed law has provisions for two year's imprisonment and Tk 2 lakh fine or both for violating secrecy, a maximum sentence of 10 years and a minimum of two years in prison or Tk 10 lakh fine for circulating pornographic materials on the internet.
Besides, one could face a maximum punishment of two years' imprisonment and a minimum of two months in jail and Tk 2 lakh fine or both for defamation and hurting religious sentiment.
For creating enmity and causing deterioration of law and order, a person could face a maximum penalty of seven years and a minimum of one year in jail and Tk 7 lakh in 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.
The draft law proposes constituting a digital security agency to be headed by a director general with powers to direct any law enforcement agency to stop broadcast of information through electronic devices.
If necessary, the DG would order an immediate stop to any transmission, said the cabinet secretary.
The cabinet yesterday also okayed in principle the drafts of the Metrology Act 2016, the Hindu Religious Welfare Trust Act 2016, the Buddhist Religion Welfare Trust Act 2016 and the Christian Religion Welfare Trust Act 2016.
It also approved a proposal for continuing the ban on cutting of trees at reserve and natural forests till 2022 to protect biodiversity in the country.
SOME OF THE EXISTING ARTICLE/LAWS
Article 39 of the Constitution
(1) Freedom of thought and conscience is guaranteed.
(2) Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence -- (a) the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression and (b) freedom of the press are guaranteed.
Section 57 of Information and Communication Technology 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.
Maximum 14 years' jail
295A. Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of the citizens of Bangladesh, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
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.