Section 57: Over 300 cases filed this year
Cases filed under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act are piling up, as the government remains "undecided" about what to do with the controversial section.
At least three people, including a journalist, have been sued under section 57 recently after a brief pause in the flow of filing such cases following severe criticism and protest against the section.
Some 300 cases were lodged under the section in the first seven months of this year. Over two dozen journalists were sued and several were arrested.
Amid the growing demand for the repeal of section 57, the government in July said it would decide the section's fate next month while finalising the draft of the proposed Digital Security Act.
But the government is yet to come up with any decision and four months have passed, frustrating rights activists and journalists who have been demanding the repeal of the section for its widespread misuse.
Rights activists and journalist leaders alleged that the government had taken up a delaying tactic to keep the law alive.
Law Minister Anisul Huq on November 7 told The Daily Star that they would hold a meeting on the Digital Security Act on Sunday where the issue would be discussed.
Replying to a query about the delay in holding the meeting, he said, "Other ministers and officials concerned were not available for the meeting.”
Organisations of journalists and human rights activists said the section goes against the people's right to freedom of expression and free speech as it contains vague wording, allowing its misuse against newsmen and social media users.
Law Minister Anisul on several occasions said the section would be scrapped.
"We have discussed the proposed Digital Security Act. We will incorporate a summary of the meeting in the draft and will sit in a meeting in August. We will take the final decision in that meeting. You [journalists] can then know about our decision on section 57," the minister said, after a views-exchange meeting on the proposed act on July 9.
But no meeting in this regard was held in the last four months, a ministry source said. Recently, a discussion about the meeting was held in the section concerned of the ministry, the source added.
The cabinet approved the draft Digital Security Act in August last year, and the prime minister then directed the law ministry to scrutinise the draft to avoid any repetition, contradictory provisions or inadequacies.
ICT CASES AGAIN
Amid huge criticism, Inspector General of Police AKM Shahidul Hoque on August 2 instructed all police stations to consult the legal wing at the police headquarters before registering any case under section 57.
On the day at a programme, ruling Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader said there was an urgent need to stop the misuse of section 57.
Later, the ruling AL directed its men to obtain permission from its central unit before filing any case under the section.
In many of those cases, ruling party men were seen as plaintiffs.
Recently, three people have been sued under the section.
On November 1, journalist Anisur Rahman, Roumari upazila correspondent of the daily Sangbad in Kurigram, was arrested under section 57. He is now in prison.
Anisur and another man were sued for allegedly taking a “screenshot” of a Facebook post involving the president and the prime minister and for showing it to the plaintiff, a Jubo League leader, and some other locals.
On the following day, one Vishnu Malo of Hatkrishnapur Bazar in Faridpur's Sadarpur upazila was arrested after a mob vandalised his home and shop over an alleged post “hurting religious sentiments”.
Noted rights activist Nur Khan Liton said although the law minister talked about scrapping of the section, the government was undecided over the issue.
"It, many people think, may be a delaying tactic to contain the movement against the section,” he told this correspondent.
“This section must be revoked immediately as it is muzzling people's freedom of speech and expression,” he added.
Meanwhile, IGP Shahidul on November 11 said journalists would not be harassed or arrested without investigation if a case was filed against him or her under section 57.
“Allegations under section 57 come to me from districts across the country. I have given instructions after going through these. Directives have been given to take legal action, as we, after investigation, found evidence in connection with some cases,” the police chief said at a views-exchange meeting with journalists in Chandpur.
Under the ICT Act, police, upon investigation of crimes, submit either a charge sheet or a final
report to the Cyber Tribunal in Dhaka, the lone tribunal to deal with such cases.
According to a tribunal source, the court till July 30 received 763 final reports from police since the law was amended in 2013 with provisions for harsher punishments.
Ninety percent of the cases were filed under section 57 and a large number of those were filed by ruling party men, the source added.
The actual number of cases is much higher as police file final reports with the court only after completing investigations into the cases.
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.
This year, the tribunal has received 342 reports in as many cases till July 30. Of them, 300 have been filed under section 57.