Make sure it’s taken down: HC to BTRC
Exercising an extraordinary jurisdiction, the High Court yesterday directed the telecom regulator to immediately remove Al Jazeera report "All the Prime Minister's Men" from online platforms in order to prevent "further worsening of the situation".
The court also ordered the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to contact Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, if necessary, to remove the report.
The HC bench of Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and and Justice Md Kamrul Hossain Mollah gave the directive after disposing of a writ petition filed over the issue.
However, the court observed, "We find that the petitioner is not any 'person aggrieved' and has no locus standi [right to bring an action or to appear in a court], since there has been no prescribed law that can guide respondent no-5 [BTRC] to ask any international social media to take down the content that could malign the prestige and dignity of an elected democratic government.
"In such a view of the matter, this court, exercising extraordinary jurisdiction, thus directs respondent no-5 to prevent further worsening of the situation by streaming through those social media -- Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter -- of that documentary both nationally and internationally."
The writ petition filed by Supreme Court lawyer Anamul Kabir Emon sought a ban on the broadcast of Al Jazeera in Bangladesh and the removal of "Al the Prime Minister's Men" from the internet.
The bench yesterday heard arguments from Attorney General AM Amin Uddin and BTRC's lawyer Khandaker Reza-E-Raquib.
Amin told the HC that "Al the Prime Minister's Men" scandalised the whole state by calling Bangladesh a mafia state.
In such a situation any citizen has locus standi to move a writ petition, seeking remedy, the attorney general said and cited previous decisions of the SC in support of his argument.
The writ petitioner has filed this petition as a public interest litigation, he added.
When one of the judges asked him whether he supported the writ petition, he said he did not think Al Jazeera should be blocked, but he believed its report "All the Prime Minister's Men" should be removed from digital platforms.
The report made the people's heart bleed and therefore, every citizen has the right to seek remedy, he said, adding that the writ petition was acceptable.
The attorney general also said the contents and links of the Al Jazeera report should be removed from social media and all digital platforms.
BTRC lawyer Khandaker-Reza-E-Raquib told the court that each and every organ of the state wanted the content removed.
If five crore people have already watched the report, 100 crore more will see it if it is not removed now, the lawyer said, "The Al Jazeera report is constantly hurting us."
On Monday, five of six amici curiae (friends of court) told the HC bench that the writ petition was not acceptable.
Since there is no allegation of violation of fundamental rights because of the Al Jazeera report, the writ petitioner has no logical reason to be aggrieved and move the petition, they said.
The petitioner has not served any legal notice to the government demanding steps to this effect and a decision to block or restrict Al Jazeera may tarnish freedom of speech and freedom of press in Bangladesh. Besides, the laws of the land are not enforceable to restrict freedom of speech outside the country, according to their opinions.
The amici curiae placed at the HC the legal and constitutional interpretations and examples of decisions of courts from home and abroad and the possible consequences of banning the broadcast of Al Jazeera in Bangladesh.
The five experts are: former attorneys general AJ Mohammad Ali and Fida M Kamal, and senior lawyers Kamal Ul Alam, Probir Neogi and Shahdeen Malik.
The other expert Abdul Matin Khasru did not clearly state his opinion on the acceptability of the writ petition, but said the HC could order the government over the issue if it felt necessary because the documentary was an attack on the prime minister, the army, and the integrity and solidarity of the country.
Lawyer Anamul Kabir Emon submitted the writ petition as a public interest litigation to the HC on February 9, saying that the Al Jazeera documentary has damaged the image of Bangladesh at home and abroad and hurt the sovereignty of Bangladesh. Contents of the report are not authentic, he said, adding that Al Jazeera had earlier broadcast reports damaging the image of Bangladesh but no action was taken against the people involved.
However, speaking on the issue, BTRC Chairman Shyam Sunder Sikder yesterday said they had earlier requested YouTube and Facebook to remove the Al Jazeera report.
In response, YouTube authorities said that they could not remove the content because it did not violate their Community Guidelines, the BTRC chairman said.
Facebook authorities also said the same, he added. "Now, it will be easier for us to approach YouTube and Facebook again after the High Court directive."
Full text of the HC order was not released yesterday.