The forum of the print media editors of Bangladesh, the Editors’ Council, at a meeting on 23 August 2015 demanded immediate revocation of section 57 (1) and 57 (2) of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act.
The editors at the meeting held at the Daily Star Centre unanimously condemned the misuse of the section under the ICT Act, saying implementation of such laws bars free journalism. In the meeting, the speakers also discussed in detail the national online media policy 2015, the overall situation of the media and contempt of court.
Editors’ Council president Golam Sarwar chaired the meeting which was attended by editors of The Daily Star, the Prothom Alo, the Independent, the Bangladesh Protidin, the Naya Diganta, the Ittefaq, the Jugantor, the Manab Zamin, the News Today, the Bhorer Kagoj, the Dhaka Tribune, the Kaler Kantho and the Bonikbarta.
Given that the working journalists of the country’s print and electronic media have witnessed with apprehension the closing down of Channel One TV, Diganta TV, ban on Bengali daily Amar Desh, incarceration of its editor who has been in prison for a long time in two terms and the administration’s failure in unearthing the murder of the journalist couple Runi and Sagar—-there is reason to be concerned about the aforesaid Act. An example is the apparent misuse of section 57 of the ICT Act 2006 (amended as of 2013) to arrest people for their comments in the social media Facebook, Twitter etc.
Scholar President Thomas Jefferson preferred newspapers to a government and said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty, he said.
As is well-known, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948 and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 1966 enshrine freedom of expression or speech. Article 19 of the UDHR says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” In the same vein, article 19 of the ICCPR says: “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.” And, this right may “be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary.” At the national level, in the case of Bangladesh the constitution in its article 39 guarantees freedom of expression with some reasonable restrictions “imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”
The international covenants and the Bangladesh constitution guarantee freedom of expression with reasonable restrictions. UNESCO’s freedom of expression tool kits envision freedom of expression as a complex right because it is not absolute and it carries special duties and responsibilities with it. The freedom of expression right protects both the right of the speaker and the right of the listener.
The section in question can be rescinded, to quote an academic in this field, in which case the criminal code of procedure needs to be updated to deal with crimes committed by using social media. Second, it can be amended with the inclusion of clear definitions of the offences mentioned and by assigning punishments according to the magnitude of the crimes. Third, the relevant court should be authorised to decide whether an accused will get bail or not.
Besides, social media users also need to learn the limits of their freedom of expression. Spreading false or distorted information or image, defamation, hate speech, issuing threats through Facebook posts and messages instigating violence must not be protected in the name of free speech.
On Feb 27, 2015, the Holiday editorial “The Press and Nation rise and fall together” said that the Press and the Nation rise and fall together; but our newsmen do not agree. Despite the adage that the crow does not eat crow’s flesh meaning a semblance of unity among the species, the Bangladesh journalists have proved the maxim “united we stand, divided we fall” incorrect over two decades ago when media persons were divided into distinct “pro-Awami League” and “pro-BNP” groups. In a Channel-i TV Tritiya Matra talk show in the third week of February, participated by anchors who compère talk shows in different TV channels, except two, the rest 10 participants explicitly supported the government as if like party activists. This is unacceptable.
One of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the Father of the US Bill of Rights, George Mason (1725 - 1792) was of the opinion that the freedom of the press is on of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by a despotic government.
Barrister Harun ur Rashid
|Beijing hosted the signing ceremony to Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank at the Great Hall of the People on 28 June 2015.
China has not been satisfied with its current standing within the global financial institutions. The policies of World Bank, headed by a US national and IMF led by a European, are largely controlled by the US and Western countries. As regards the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the policies are largely influenced by the US and Japan.
China, the world’s second largest economy has less voting power in the IMF and World Bank than Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg. Reforms in global financial institutions were suggested in recent years providing due recognition of the contribution of China and other middle-income countries to the global economy and hence their due place in the decision-making process in the IMF and the World Bank. The reforms have not been undertaken because the U.S. Congress has not agreed to these reforms.
AIIB may operate by 2015 end
Many developing countries in Asia are not satisfied with conditional loans from the IMF and World Bank. China has realised that there is a need for a new bank for Asian nations for infrastructure, similar to the new development bank set up by BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Given the above background, in October 2013, just before the APEC meeting in Bali, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which came to fruition 24th October 2014 as 21 Asian countries including Bangladesh and India signed initially in Beijing the Memorandum of Understanding as founding members to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Later on another 36 nations from European and other countries joined the team, making it total 57 members.
Some analysts say that AIIB is a critical element of China’s “one belt, one road” strategy, which encompasses two initiatives: the overland Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road.
Founding members of AIIB) held a three-day meeting in Singapore from 20th -22nd May to discuss the charter for the establishment of the institution. It was decided in the meeting that China was expected to hold a 25-30 percent stake in the AIIB while India would be the second-biggest shareholder having share between 10 and 15 percent. In all, Asian countries are expected to own between 72 and 75 percent of the bank, while European and other nations will own the rest. AIIB Secretariat said the meeting in Singapore finalised the articles of agreement, which are expected to be ready enabling the bank to make sure that it can begin operation by the end of the year.
Japan’s counter initiative
On geopolitical scene, power rivalries exist between China and Japan. Japan and its biggest ally the US have refused to join the AIIB.
On 22nd May it is reported that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has launched a $100 billion initiative to challenge China’s infrastructure bank. The new Japanese-led initiative is committed to financing infrastructure over the next five years through the Japanese-dominated Asian Development Bank and also direct lending to Asian countries through its overseas foreign assistance arm JICA.
The envisioned assistance is aimed at demonstrating Japan’s stance to contribute to building up high-quality infrastructure in Asia through human resource development and technological transfers and showing the difference from the AIIB, so that Japan can keep a high profile in the region. Japan hopes to encourage private-sector investments in Asia by reducing risks with the use of public funds.
The global demand for infrastructure finance which, according to ADB estimates, will amount to $8 trillion in Asia alone over the next decade. This tends to suggest that the China-led AIIB, after all, may not be considered a threat to the World Bank, the ADB or other multilateral lenders.
Besides, President of ADB Nakao and Jin Liqun, head of the interim secretariat of the AIIB, had already agreed to work together for Asia, according to a recent statement issued by the ADB. By producing the cooperative tone, the two officials effectively brushed aside concerns that the ADB and the AIIB will vie with each other.
Global leadership is not just a matter of might; it also reflects the provision of global public goods. According to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, the AIIB’s establishment “may be remembered as the moment the United States lost its role as the underwriter of the global economic system.”
The setting up of AIIB implies a larger global leadership role for China. Japan is not ready to leave the field of infrastructure development for Asian countries to China because AIIB appears to encroach on the regional financial clout of Tokyo and its ally Washington. Accordingly Japan took the initiative to set up a rival infrastructure network. Hopefully Asian countries will reap benefits from both the initiatives.
The writer is former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.
The ruling Awami League (AL) Presidium Member Mr. Surunjit Sengupta said, ‘‘The Hindu-Bhuddha-Christian Oikka Parisad (HBCOP) alleged that ministers, Members of Parliament (MPs) and whip of Jatiya Sangsad (JS) are grabbing lands of minorities. Their allegation is serious. There is no other regrettable incident than that”. Mr. Sengupta further said, “It is more regrettable that being a savoir you are going to be grabbers, claiming yourself as non-communal and progressive. It creates panic among the minorities. We want to see free and fair justice for it”. (See the “Dainik Janakantha”; “Dainik Samakal” and “Naya Diganta”, dated August 8, 2015).
Mr. Sengupta said that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is the last beacon of hope for Hindu minorities. So, the PM should take responsibility for the minorities. It was reported in the same paper on the same day that the leaders of “the Hindu-Bhuddha-Christian-Oikka Parisad’’ at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity alleged that miscreants in the name of ruling party chanting slogan ‘Joy Bangla’ are grabbing the properties of the minorities. Ministers, MPs, leaders and activists of the ruling party and a section of corrupt officials are allegedly involved in it.
Rana Das Gupta’s statement
In a written statement Rana Das Gupta, general secretary of the HBCOP, said Dabirul Islam, ruling party MP, was out to grab land properties of Hindu minorities at Balia Dangi, Thakurgaon; M.A. Alam, MP of Pirojpur occupied a shop at Sarupkati; and Mahbub Ara Gini, Whip, JS, was out to grab land at Ramganj Mission and Ashram. An influential cabinet member grabbed the house of Zamindar Satischandra Guha of Bhajandanga, Faridpur, and demolished his old house.
Local Government and Rural Development Minister Khondaker Mosharaf Hossain refuted allegation and said that he had purchased the land from the real owner at much higher price than the actual market price, as reported in the daily Naya Diganta, dated August 9, 2015.
Health department grabbed lands
The HBCOP chief Rana Das Gupta further alleged, the health department grabbed 1869 (One thousand eight hundred and sixty nine) decimals of land of Kalimata Debottar at Faridpur. A temple of lord Shiva was demolished and visitor’s room for jail was built there. Brahma Samaj temple was demolished and girls’ school and Saheed Minar were constructed there. A Law college was established after demolishing a family temple of lord Shiva.
A Co-operative Training Centre was established on 1725 (one thousand seven hundred and twenty-five) decimals of land occupied from a family temple of Durga. The miscreants in the name of ruling party were out to grab 36 (thirty-six) acres of land at Zamindarbari Debottar. The miscreants attacked Buddhist temple at Cox’s Bazar and grabbed their properties.
The HBCOP demanded investigation into the incidents and brought the miscreants under speedy trial and exemplary prosecution.
Subroto Chowdhury, a leader of the “Hindu-Bhuddha-Christian-Oikka Parisad,” alleged that it had been a slogan to blame Jamaat- Shibir for the attacks. But we have observed that some AL men in some places were also involved in this heinous attack on Hindu minorities. The government should identify the real attackers through fair investigation into the incidents and bring the offenders to book. (The Daily Naya Diganta, dated January 11, 2014)
A news report said that Kartikkumar Biswas of Ballabpur village filed a case against 13 persons including an AL leader with Chowgacha P.S., Jessore district, for inhuman torture on Hindu minorities. It said on July 1, 2015 Sarkit Kumar Roy, general secretary, Matsyajibi Samity and Kartik Kumar Biswas were seriously injured in a sudden attack by Saiful Islam, AL leader and Union Parisad (UP) member of Ballabpur village and his accomplices with sharp weapons over establishing ownership on water bodies for fishing. Police recovered them from the house of Saiful Islam and sent them to Chougacha upazila health complex for treatment. (The Daily Naya Diganta, dated July 4, 2015)
Another news report said Hapiza, Moslem and Akkas, these three AL men, allegedly grabbed 57 (fifty-seven) decimal of land belonging to Akhil Chandra Biswas, a retired school teacher at Angordoha village in Magura district. The AL men threatened Akhil Chandra to kill him if he did not go to India. (The Dhaka Tribune, dated March 5, 2015)
A news report said some 1,699 (one thousand six hundred and ninety nine) temples were attacked, 5,050 (five thousand and fifty) incidents of eviction happened and 406 (four hundred and six) persons were converted forcibly in a period from January, 2007 to October, 2014. Besides, 302 (three hundred and two) persons were killed, 2900 (two thousand and nine hundred) persons were tortured, 2000 (two thousand) houses of Hindu minorities were set ablaze, 50 (fifty) persons were tortured in police custody and 392 (three hundred and ninety two) were the victims of rape during the same period. (The Daily Naya Diganta, dated November 8, 2014). It depicted a deplorable scenario of repression on minorities.
Only a month ago on July 5, 2015, Mr. Sengupta said, “Bangladesh is now passing its golden times” under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who set an example through massive development in the country within a short period and none can hamper its continuation. (The Daily Sun). Mr. Sengupta belongs to Hindu community yet he did not know that minorities were the victims of repression for long by the ruling party men before allegation brought by the Parisad at a press conference on August 7, 2015 though the country was passing its golden times. This is shameful.
Need for judicial probe and punishment
According to Rabindranath Trivedi’s article in the Asian Tribune dated May 15, 2008, members of the Hindu community lost “26 lakh acres of land from 1965 to 2006, while an estimated one crore Hindus were forced to leave the country from 1964 to 2001 because of communal conflicts and deprivation caused by the Enemy (Vested) Property Act, according to a study published in the Daily Star, Dhaka”.
The price of the land and other movable properties lost by 12 lakh Hindu families has been estimated at Tk 350412 crore, said the study The study report was published in the form of a book titled ‘Deprivation of Hindu Minority in Bangladesh: Living with Vested Property’, which was launched at LGED auditorium in Dhaka on 14 May, 2008. Prof Abul Barakat is lead author of the book sponsored by the Association for Land Reform and Development and the Nijera Kori.
Passing blame on BNP –Jamaat will not help solve any problem. It is the responsibility of the government to find out the criminals without considering party affiliation. Judicial probe is needed.
The miscreants should be given exemplary punishment for the sake of consolidating our social harmony in the interest of the nation.