Law minister Anisul Huq said on Sunday that the government would make a decision on the Section 57 of the Information Communication Technology Act 2006 while finalising the draft Digital Security Bill in August.
After an inter-ministerial meeting to review the draft Digital Security Bill at the ministry, he said that they would hold a similar meeting in July to settle the issue.
About concerns raised by journalists over increasing number of cases against them under the Section 57 in recent time, the law minister said that the investigation agencies would be instructed to ensure fair investigations into such cases so that no innocent journalists were harassed or detained under the section.
‘Filing cases under the Section 57 is nothing final. I can assure you that investigation before the submission of the charge sheet would be fair,’ said Anisul, also a lawyer by profession.
The law minister on several occasions earlier hinted that the Section 57 of the 2006 act but the provisions stipulated in the section would be included with more clarifications in the proposed digital security law to remove widespread confusions.
The journalist community and rights groups continued demanding immediate repeal of controversial provisions including the Section 57 having wider scope of misuse. State minister for post and telecommunications Tarana Halim and state minister for ICT Zunaid Ahmed Palak, among others, attended the meeting.
On August 22, 2016, the cabinet endorsed in principle the draft Digital Security Bill, proposing life sentence and Tk 1 core in fine as maximum punishment for spreading propaganda against the country’s founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and the 1971 liberation war through electronic media or any other digital devices.
The cabinet asked Anisul Huq to scrutinise the draft containing provisions similar to the Section 57 as proposed by the information and communication technology division to avoid overlapping of similar provisions in other laws.
The number of cases under the Section 57 of the 2006 act increased significantly, despite low rate of conviction, after the section was amended in 2013 making it harsher.
According to police headquarters statistics as of June, 8,330 cases were filed under the Section 57 in four years after the 2013 amendment while the number was 317 in the first seven years since the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led government enacted the law.
Political activists, academics, rights activists, journalists and retired military officials, among others, were prosecuted under the act, especially Section 57, by either the police or ruling Awami League activists mostly for posts on Facebook.
The Section 57 stipulates a minimum jail term of seven years and the maximum of 14 years and a maximum fine of Tk 1 crore for broadcasting and posting on the web any information that might promote dishonesty and unscrupulous conduct, causes defamation, undermine the image and reputation of individuals or the state, offends religious sentiments, or provokes or incites individuals or organisations. The offence is non-bailable.