Rights bodies slam draft rules on social media
Rights organisations have issued statements expressing alarm that the proposed social media regulation could pave the way to curb freedom of expression.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission released a draft regulation meant to regulate digital and social media and over-the-top (OTT) platforms.
Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB), a coalition of 20 organisations, in a statement yesterday said, "The Forum is worried about the vagueness concerning the regulation's scope and breadth of application and its lack of specificity in defining terminologies."
Furthermore, the organisation is concerned about the draft regulation not clearly defining the grounds for removing content, and its power to impose restrictions on free speech.
The Forum said the lack of clear definitions in this draft regulation will create confusion and scope for abuse of the law. "For example, terms such as 'content that hurts religious sentiments, secularism, culture and social values' must be clearly defined," said the statement.
HRFB said most provisions in the regulation are in direct conflict with international covenants on human rights, civic and political rights.
The regulation places restrictions on those who host, publish, send, update information, which is contrary to the principles of free speech and open information.
"The privacy of individual citizens will be affected by the provision in the regulation which states that the BTRC or court can order the identity of the primary sender of an information to be revealed," said the Forum.
"The end-to-end encryption provided by WhatsApp will be rendered illegal by this regulation."
Certain sections of the regulation are almost identical to some of the most abused sections of the Digital Security Act, observed the Forum.
These include sections pertaining to defamation, affecting the image of the nation and its sovereignty, breaching government secrecy, insulting the spirit of the Liberation War and the Father of Nation.
Transparency International Bangladesh in another statement yesterday said the power given to BTRC to remove content on the grounds mentioned above has been abused over the years.
"We have seen thousands of arrests over a period of over one decade for expressions on social media that can be reasonably assessed to be lawful," said TIB.
They also said powers given to the BTRC to cancel, suspend or revoke registration certificates may deter non-resident service providers from entering the Bangladesh market.
On Tuesday, Bangladesh Legal Aid Services Trust (BLAST) had issued a similar statement saying the regulation will "inhibit democratic debate and discourse".
"There is a risk that entities engaged in constructive but critical commentary on powerful actors, or in asserting rights or demanding justice and accountability in respect to corruption or human rights violations, may find it difficult to secure registration," said BLAST.
The HRFB statement was signed by Golam Monowar Kamal, executive director of Ain o Salish Kendra; Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation; Zakir Hossain, chief executive of Nagorik Udyog; Sara Hossain, executive director of BLAST; Ranjan Karmakar, executive director of Steps Towards Development; Sanjeeb Drong, secretary-general of Bangladesh Adibashi Forum, and Saleh Ahmed, executive director of Bandhu Social Welfare Society.