The High Court has asked the authorities concerned to explain the legality of two sections of the Digital Security Act 2018, which blur the definition of offence.
The two sections include the publishing of false or intimidating information, and crimes, and penalties for creating a deterioration of law and order.
The High Court bench of Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Md Mahmud Hasan Talukder passed the order on Monday after hearing a writ petition.
The secretaries to the Ministry of Law and Information and others concerned have been asked to respond to the rule within four weeks, said petitioner's lawyer Advocate Mohammad Shishir Monir.
On January 19, journalist leader Mohammad Abdullah; Supreme Court lawyers Md Asad Uddin, Md Asaduzzaman, Md Zubaidur Rahman, Md Mohiuddin Molla, Md Muzahidul Islam; associates professors of the University of Dhaka Dr Mohammad Ismail, Dr Md Kamruzzaman and Dr Md Rafiqul Islam filed a writ for declaring four sections – 25, 28, 29 and 31 – of the Digital Security Act 2018 illegal.
These sections thwart the fundamental right to expression, said Shishir Munir.
"It is the established term by the court that the definition of an offence has to be specified. But it is not clear in these sections. So, anyone can be harassed by abusing these provisions, '' said Shishir.
Section 25 says: If any person in any website or through any digital medium intentionally or knowingly sends information which is offensive or fear-inducing, or which despite knowing it as false is sent, published or propagated to annoy, insult, humiliate or denigrate a person, the activity of that person will be an offense under the Act.
The section also says: If any person publishes or propagates or assists in publishing or propagating any information to tarnish the image of the nation or spread confusion or despite knowing it as false, publishes or propagates or assists in publishing or propagates information in its full or in a distorted form for the same intentions, the activity of that person will be an offense under the Act.
According to section 31: If any person intentionally publishes or broadcasts any kind of file in any website or digital format which will create hostility, hatred or adversity among people or destroy any communal harmony or create unrest or disorder or deteriorates or threatens to deteriorate law and order then that activity of that person will be considered as an offence.
The writ petition said the sections – by imposing a blanket prohibition on publication of material which may create hostility between communities or cause unrest or disorder or is likely to cause any deterioration in the law and order situation – violates the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by article 39 of the Constitution.
The sections have given uncontrolled powers to the executive and the prosecuting authority to determine whether an act satisfies the unclear and unspecified definition of offence.