- Mandatory registration with BTRC for all websites, social media and online entertainment platforms operating in Bangladesh
- NOC from information and broadcasting ministry mandatory for websites containing news, curated content, films and web-series
- For registration, existing websites and social media must have their offices in Bangladesh
- Anyone punished with a two-year jail-term for a criminal offence will not be able to apply for registration before 5 years since release from prison
Loan defaulters will not be allowed to run any websites or online platforms in Bangladesh, according to the telecom regulator's draft policy, which rights activists and legal experts fear will impose fresh curbs on people's freedom of expression.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has drafted the regulation in an attempt to regulate social media and online entertainment platforms.
The draft proposes making registration with the BTRC mandatory for all websites, social media and online entertainment platforms operating in Bangladesh.
In the matter of registration, the telecom regulator has imposed some more conditions, the most important of which is that any existing website and social media must have an office in Bangladesh.
In addition, they must have a trade licence, tax and VAT certificate in Bangladesh. Publishers of online news or current affairs, online curated content or web-based programmes, films and series should obtain no objection certificates from the information and broadcasting ministry.
If persons have been jailed for two years on charges of having committed a criminal offence, they will not be able to apply for registration unless five years have elapsed since their release.
The draft of "The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Regulation for Digital, Social Media and OTT Platforms, 2021" was uploaded on the BTRC website on 3 February to elicit public opinion.
The BTRC move follows in the wake of a recent directive by the High Court.
Senior District Judge Abu Syed Diljar Hussain, BTRC commissioner (Law), told The Business Standard, "Social media are running unbridled. There is no discipline here. The policy will bring about discipline and establish order in this field."
He said, according to the draft policy, disseminating or posting any comment or news on social media such as Facebook and YouTube against the independence and sovereignty of the country would constitute an offence. Additionally, no derogatory comments on Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would be permitted.
Legal action has been proposed against anyone who posts or promotes comments or topics that hurt the sentiments of any religious group and destroy communal harmony.
He said the draft policy also stipulates that no pornographic or immoral content can be promoted on entertainment over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as Netflix, Hoichoi and Amazon Prime.
Some points of the draft have drawn flak from jurists and human rights activists, with Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, a Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist, objecting to harshness in the policy.
"In the existing reality of Bangladesh, people face obstacles whenever they try to take to the streets on any issue. There is no other means to protest. In such circumstances, social media, including Facebook and YouTube, have been turned into a platform for people's right of expression," he added.
Questioning the logic behind formulating a new regulation, the prominent rights activist said the Digital Security Act has already specified what can or cannot be done on digital platforms.
"Now another specific policy is being formulated to further curtail freedom of expression," he added.
The draft policy notes that nothing can be done to disgrace any person or negatively affect Bangladesh's relations with other countries. A number of lawyers have raised questions on how these points will be ascertained.
According to BTRC officials, there have been communal attacks in the country at different times through the use of social media such as Facebook. In recent times, there have been widespread attacks and vandalism on Hindu temples at various places, including Cumilla. These incidents are being cited as examples behind the making of the policy, they added.
Following the violence, the BTRC said, a lawyer had filed a writ petition seeking discipline in OTT platforms and social media.
Acting upon the writ petition, the High Court directed the telecom regulator to formulate a policy. It has already submitted the draft to the court, the BRTC officials added.
Once the policy is enacted, the government's revenue collection from this sector will be ensured, they added.