The High Court (HC) yesterday issued a rule, asking the government to explain why Sections 25 and 31 of the Digital Security Act 2018, which deal with the publishing of false or intimidating information and crimes and penalty for deterioration of law and order, should not be declared illegal.
In response to a writ petition, an HC bench, comprising Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Md Mahmud Hassan Talukder, came up with the rule.
Secretaries to the ministries of information and communication technology (ICT) and law and have been asked to reply to the rule within four weeks. Nine persons—Dhaka University
teachers Mohammad Ismail, Md Kamruzzaman and Md Rafiqul Islam, journalist Mohammad Abdullah, Supreme Court lawyers Md Asad Uddin, Md Asaduzzaman, Md Zobaidur Rahman, Md Mohiuddin Molla and Md Mujahidul Islam jointly filed the writ petition before the HC seeking its directive.
They filed the petition on January 19, stating that the two sections of the Digital Security Act hamper freedom of expression and thought.
Section 25 (1) of the Act says: “If any person using a website or any digital device (a) deliberately or knowingly distributes any information or data that is attacking or intimidating in nature; or if a person publishes or distributes any information despite knowing that it is false to irritate, humiliate, defame, or embarrass or to discredit a person. (b) Damages the image and reputation of the state or spreads confusion or with the same purpose publishes or distributes fully or partially distorted information or data despite knowing that it is false, and if anyone assists in such actions then all such actions of the individual will be considered a crime.”
Section 31 says: “If a person deliberately publishes or broadcasts via a website or any digital platform anything that creates enmity, hatred or acrimony among different classes or communities, or upsets communal harmony, or creates unrest or chaos, or causes or begins to cause deterioration in law and order, then that activity of the said person will be considered a crime.”
The petition said sections of the law by imposing a blanket prohibition on the publication of materials which may create hostility between communities, or cause unrest or disorder or cause, or is likely to cause any deterioration in the law and order situation by violating the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 39 of the Constitution.
The sections have conferred arbitrary and uncontrolled powers upon the executive and the prosecuting authority to determine whether a particular act satisfies the vague and unspecified ingredients of offence and, therefore, the sections are liable to be struck down as being in violation of the Constitution.
Barrister Imran A Siddique and advocate Shishir Monir appeared for the petitioners during hearing.