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Some laws make us worried

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08th-Feb-2018       
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Enayetullah Khan :
We have news. And it certainly does not make us happy. Of course, it all depends on how you take it. The bigger truth is that as citizens, as men and women who believe in the high principles of democracy, in the idea that is liberalism, indeed in the idea of Bangladesh as we experienced it through our sustained War of Liberation nearly half a century ago, we are worried.
The good news is that Section 57 of the ICT Act will go. The bad news is that it will be replaced by an even more draconian measure in the form of the Digital Security Act. Indeed, a good number of the provisions contained in Section 57 will be incorporated in the DSA. Add to that the comment by the Inspector General of Police that even when Section 57 goes, cases initiated against individuals under it will remain. Must they? Should they?
It is all a case of the government's giving with one hand and taking away with the other. One wonders why, if the goal of the government and society at large is the creation of a liberal democratic society in Bangladesh, such laws as Section 57 and the Digital Security Act are necessary. One does not ignore the fact, though, that there are always reasons for the State to keep watch on those areas and people that might pose a threat to national security. That is a point one does not have any dispute with. But what makes all these developments, from the withdrawal of Section 57 to the imminent arrival of the DSA, a reason for grave worry is that they will prove fertile ground for those who might be tempted to put people and opinions they are uncomfortable with into unnecessary trouble. In a society where the concept of justice has traditionally remained trapped in a straitjacket, there is no dearth of people to put other, well-meaning people into grave difficulties through a misapplication of the law.
And of course there is the bigger issue of how the DSA will impact journalism and all other writings that aim at an undertaking of research into Bangladesh's history. Certain aspects of the DSA, insofar as they relate to established historical facts, may come in the way of students of history as well as writers and historians taking it upon themselves to delve into the various facts of national history.
Where is the guarantee that some individual or individuals, taking offence at what for them might constitute anti-State activities, will not come forth to intimidate researchers, academics, writers, columnists and commentators with the DSA? There are the non-bailable provisions of the upcoming DSA, which provisions promise to be a huge disincentive to historical analyses of issues related to the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation. Moreover, there is the question of how the law will affect the writing of historical fiction, a genre where writers feel free to suit their imagination to events as they have happened through the process of history.
Journalists and people in other professional areas have viewed the move relating to Section 57 and the DSA with worry and justified alarm.
The government would do well to rethink the entire issue. Given the history of many dark laws we have gone through, both in the pre-1971 era and following the emergence of Bangladesh, we are certain that we do not any more need laws that go against the spirit of democracy and that may have long-term negative ramifications for the nation. Those draconian measures . . . and our worries.

(Enayetullah Khan Editor-in-Chief United News of Bangladesh (UNB) and Dhaka Courier.)

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