A ship is about to sail. From the deck, a Cretan is saying to his mates standing on the shore, "All Cretans are liars." This is known as the 'Paradox of Epimenides' from Ancient Greece. 'Paradox' is a seemingly true statement that contradicts with itself. The contradiction here is clearly evident: if he (the Cretan) is true that all the Cretans are liars, he too cannot be true, because he is also a Cretan! Then, among the two consecutive statements, one should be false. In some cases, the national goal of Bangladesh resembles a paradox nowadays: The creation of a digital Bangladesh through delimiting digital practices and dispossessing digital freedom!
Law is believed to protect civil rights, ensure social justice and sustain harmony amid societal setting. Well-judged and well-précised laws, such as: preserving women's rights, punishment for homicide, oppression, planned vandalization and violence, or conservation of nature etc , in short , bring boon and boost in social life. On the contrary, autonomous or despotic laws often cause discontent among citizens while resulting in public outcry. Such instances are not infrequent on the pages of history-from the era of empire to nation-states. The introduction and legislation of ICT Section 57 was a traumatizing incident for the Bangladesh culture that now reportedly belong to digital culture. The further attempt of gagging freedom of expression was marked by the cabinet's approval of Digital Security Act (DSA) on the 31st January.
Even though the declaration of revoking of Section 57 pleased us temporarily, but that particular law has been deliberately divided and distributed in Sections 25, 28, 29 and 31 of the amended DSA. We already have witnessed of 1,417 filed cases from the year 2012 to 2017 under this section. At least 65 percent of them were for defamation, and many journalists were harassed in the accusation of slandering. Thus, the DSA continues to pose a huge threat to trigger misuse of laws against innocents. Moreover, several terms like 'defamation', 'religious sentiment', etc are not clearly defined so anyone may feel free to misinterpret these laws.
A comparison between the punishments described in DSA and the punishments of colonial era on account of defamation, hurting religious sentiment and provocation causing breach of peaceful coexistence delineates that the laws of present-day Bangladesh are far stricter than the British period. The penalty levels for few cases might have been unusual like in Section 21 - up to 14 years jail or a fine of up to Taka 1 crore or both for spreading negative propaganda against the Liberation War or the Father of the Nation - which should be reconsidered.
It is an assumption that these laws might not be much useful to prevent unrest and violence in the country. In the age of information, digital disinformation actually does not follow any linear pattern which can be suppressed immediately. From the last few years, most of the incidents of vandalism and violence erupted from social media disinformation remains unsolved, and serious miscreants are still roaming about Scott-free for many 'mysterious' reasons. Besides, individuals with minor, even no offense often times have to endure unpleasant situations. Such trend could be worse because new act has vested more authoritative power on the hands of police.
In the newly granted act - Section 32 demonstrates that no one can be a spy with digital apparatuses to collect information entering into the offices of government, semi-government, autonomous or statutory bodies without lawful procedure or permission. Otherwise, He will be held as guilty and should get 14 years imprisonment or Taka 20 lakhs fine or both. What about investigative journalism that reveals the hidden wrongdoings of the corrupt people? Lawbreakers are not idealists.
Rather, they are in need to be exposed with accurate investigative initiatives, risk and tactics. Publics are experiencing such incidents regularly through extraordinary investigative reports and programs digging out concealed facts. Instead of assisting these undaunted truth-seekers, this law would enfetter them by being a doubtless impediment and barrier. Besides, hiding crucial information, any organization anytime can be a potential threat to the state, security and democracy.
A political manifesto-"Vision 2021", popularized by the AL before winning the National Election of 2008 demonstrated the creation of a 'Digital Bangladesh' - vesting more importance and emphasizing on economic and technological development. Information Right Act was approved in the following year. But later on, the orthodox implementation of Section 57 and DSA is felt as quite reverse to the previous mass-welcomed steps taken by the government. Not to forget - the constitution of Bangladesh's Section 39 declares the freedom of thought and expression (except some special cases which are not specified adequately). Therefore, why the discrepancy and dichotomy with security law and digital control? Why such enigma? Often, it seems the dream of 'Digital Bangladesh' is becoming a mirage.
The writer is a Researcher at Jahangirnagar University and writes on politics, sociology, media and communication technology. He can be reached at [email protected]