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Bangladesh: Government Must Retract Proposed Amendments to the Information and Communication Technology Act

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(Bangkok, 22 August 2013) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), a regional human rights group with 47 member organisations from 16 countries across Asia, urged the government of Bangladesh to rescind the proposed amendment to the Information and Communication Technology Act 2006 (ICT Act), which is riddled with legal irregularities and poses a serious threat to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in the country.

A cabinet meeting on 19 August 2013 has hastily cleared the amendments to the ICT Act by citing the need for the provisions to be urgently implemented in the form of an ordinance. Under the present ICT Act offences are non-cognizable and bailable. The amendment however aims to classify some offenses as cognizable and non-bailable, thereby allowing law enforcement officials to arrest without obtaining a warrant. The amendment also sets a minimum punishment of seven years imprisonment for all such offences without taking into consideration the nature and gravity of the violation. Maximum punishment under the ICT Act has also been increased from ten years to fourteen years imprisonment.

In our view, despite the Parliament session being scheduled shortly in September 2013, the government of Bangladesh, having approved this ordinance, disregarded constitutional norms. The government has thus stripped the people’s representatives of their legitimate right to discuss and debate the proposed provisions of the amendment. Reports suggest that the ordinance is likely to receive the assent of the President soon, after which it will come into effect.

“The proposed amendment by way of an ordinance to the ICT Act comes at a time when the government of Bangladesh has become increasingly intolerant towards voices of dissent and criticism. The ordinance is certainly a further blow to the environment for the Bangladeshi people to exercise their fundamental freedom of opinion and expression. Measures such as this being put in place ahead of national elections in late 2013 can only be viewed as a serious attack on democracy,” deplored Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.

The recent arrest of a prominent human rights defender Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary of a local human rights organization Odhikar on 10 August 2013 for the alleged offences under the ICT Act has resulted in a sense of shock among the local and international human rights community. The government hurriedly introducing the proposed amendments to the ICT Act within days of his arrest points to other human rights defenders and CSOs being at risk of arbitrary arrest and legal harassment.

“It is essential for the government of Bangladesh to substantiate its rationale and necessity for the repressive provisions of the ordinance, which we find to be unacceptable in form and substance. We implore the government to withdraw this amendment to the ICT Act. We also call on the President to uphold the rule of law and democratic principles by refraining from providing his assent to this flawed instrument,” urged Serrano. [ENDS]

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