Published:  01:02 AM, 07 October 2017

Of Section 57 and free expression

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam let it be known the other day that Section 57 of the ICT Act had never been intended to be applied against the media and that efforts were on by the government to ensure that it was not misapplied from here on. The minister's remarks, made at a session organized by the Bangladesh chapter of Article 19 and Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB) on Thursday, are certainly reassuring and one expects that his statement will mark the beginning of a pulling back of the law where it infringes on the right of the press to exercise freedom of expression. Mr. Alam, in the course of his speech, referred to the statements relating to Article 57 by the Minister for Information and the Minister for Law in recent times, pointing out that they had made it clear that the law was not aimed at journalists and that moves were in place for it to go.

The Article 19-RIB session, described as a sharing of findings related to stakeholder reports regarding the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, brought together a number of individuals from the media and other groups who had grievances to relate about the sufferings they had been subjected to through a wrong and motivated use of Section 57. In a very large number of instances, the media people, a majority of whom are based in regions outside the capital, have had cases slapped on them for filing news reports on corruption and the involvement of political elements in such corruption.

These were some of the points which were brought out at the meeting. In the course of the deliberations, the role or the non-role of the Press Council was also highlighted through these stakeholders mentioning the fact that where individuals aggrieved by news reports were expected to complain to the council, the reality is that Section 57 is speedily applied and the police waste no time in rounding up those accused in cases filed by aggrieved individuals.

The meeting was surely an eye-opener for those who happened to be there and not just on account of the presence of laws like Section 57. The role of such organizations as the National Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission, in the sense of a needed expansion of their authority, also came under the purview of the deliberations. Minister Shahriar Alam's reassurance that the Press Council could be the ultimate response to the issues raised at the meeting should, we believe, be followed through by concrete action on the ground by the relevant authorities. We keep fingers crossed.

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