The Jakarta Post
The Bangladesh cabinet yesterday approved the draft of the ICT (Amendment) Ordinance-2013 proposing to empower law enforcers to arrest any person without warrant and increase the highest punishment to 14 years.
In the original Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act-2006, enacted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-Jamaat government, the maximum punishment was 10 years' jail term with a heavy fine.
And police had to seek permission from the authorities concerned to file a case and arrest any person involved in crimes covered under the law.
The amendments, okayed in a regular cabinet meeting, envisage a minimum jail term of seven years.
In the original act, termed by many a repressive law, offences were bailable. Now they have been made non-bailable, meaning the bail is at the judge's discretion.
'Some crimes were non-cognisable under the existing act,' Cabinet Secretary M Musharraf Hossain told reporters after the meeting at the Bangladesh Secretariat.
'But the new act will make those cognisable. [That means] the police will be able to arrest a suspect without issuing of warrant [by the court]. But they will have to produce the arrested person before the court within 24 hours.'
He said the cabinet had asked the ICT ministry to bring further changes in the law, if necessary, after reviewing the proposed amendments.
Asked last night whether the amount of the fine will be changed, the secretary could not say anything specifically.
In recent times, Amar Desh acting editor Mahmudur Rahman, rights organisation Odhikar's Secretary Adilur Rahman, bloggers Asif Mohiuddin, Mashiur Rahman Biplob, Subrata Adhikari Shuvo and Rasel Parvez were arrested in cases filed under the ICT Act.
Destroying computer data with malicious intent, transferring data without proper authority, hacking, and releasing vulgar and defaming information in electronic form will be considered serious offences as per the proposed amendments.
Preferring not to be named, a senior minister told The Daily Star that the government had brought in the amendments taking a lesson from Mahmudur Rahman's misuse of ICT to instigate religious violence and provoke radical Islamists, including Hefajat-e Islam, to take to the streets.
The cabinet secretary also said an ordinance would be promulgated soon. 'The objective of the law is to protect and control the misuse of information technologies.'
Replying to a query whether the government was hastily amending the law following the arrest of Adilur Rahman, he said, 'The amendments were not made in haste. And no law is ever enacted for one man.'
Last month, deputy commissioners at a conference informed the government high-ups that they could not take immediate action against spread of offensive contents online, Musharraf Hossain said, adding the amendments will resolve this issue.
The ICT Act was promulgated by the BNP-led alliance government back on Oct 8, 2006.
Article 57 of the law defined crime as willful publication on websites or any other electronic platform any material which is false, vulgar or which can motivate someone or defame someone, cause deterioration of law and order or the image of the state or individuals can be tarnished or hurt religious sentiments.
Mustafa Jabbar, president of Bangladesh Computer Samity, said the law was inadequate to deal with cybercrimes.
'Many cybercrimes or digital crimes do not fall under the purview of the law. For instance, it does not address any crime committed through using mobile phones. This law made e-mails as evidence, conflicting with the country's Evidence Act that does not recognise as e-mails as evidence,' Jabbar said.
'Even the amendments did not address these issues.'
Terming the act a 'black law' for the proposed provision for arrest without warrant, the IT specialist said, 'Any arrest should follow certain procedures.
'This law offers the scope for political misuse. There is no guarantee that the police will not misuse it.'
Regarding the punishment provisions in the law, he observed that the law should have defined fines and punishments for each category of crime.
Fahim Mashroor, president of IT trade body Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, 'The government should have consulted the relevant quarters before going for the amendments.'
Like Jabbar, he expressed concern that the law was vulnerable to misuse due to empowering the law enforcers to arrest anyone without any warrant.
In recent times, there was a surge in political propaganda packed with lies and fake photos that hurt religious sentiments.
The misuse of cyberspace as well as mobile phone technology also rose apparently to thwart the war crimes trial.
Last year's communal violence Ramu was instigated by circulating a fake facebook page of a Buddhist youth showing that he insulted the holy Quran.
The internet has also been flooded with fake posts and photos to cause and fuel political violence.