We're Live Bangla Friday, March 31, 2023

Bangladesh: We want even sterner laws

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The success of this government is incomparable. They are the role model of development, they have established people's voting rights, they have rescued the country from evil forces. They have upheld the leader, the spirit, the image and history of the nation. Despite the risk of being criticised, they have come up with new laws and have applied these in new ways. Despite all this, conspiracies and hatred against the government have not abated at home and abroad!

There is the Digital Security Act (DSA) to thwart conspiracies, there are all sorts of special laws and preventive detention to tackle treason and defamation. There is a workforce strong enough to file a hundred cases against a single allegation under these laws, there is a judiciary liberal enough to accept these cases. If the cases are inadequate, there is the police to carry out beatings and assault, there are the hammer and helmet forces, and there is the criminal code to file counter cases.

The new laws among these were made with the 2018 elections in mind. But only a few thousand cases were filed under the DSA of 2016, the miscreants could be kept behind bars for only a few months, only a handful of people died while in state custody.

Another new law in 2016 (to regulate foreign grants for voluntary activities) could somewhat stifle the voice of a few human rights organisations. So these laws were not quite adequate to bring a halt to conspiracies and smear campaigns. It wasn't possible to stop the bad mouthing about the 2018 election and the subsequent activities of the government.

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There are fresh elections ahead. Conspiracies abound around this. Some are imposing sanctions, others are cancelling visas, then there are threats of even further sanctions. And the devious civil society members of the country are looking for the chance to become ministers. The left and the right are calling for an unelected government during the elections. Derailed elements abroad are all out campaigning about the government.

The government, thus, is being forced to enact new laws. The question is, will these news laws be enough to thwart the conspiracies? Or will the government come up with even more new laws?

Critics claim that there were no candidates in the 2014 election and there were no voters in the 2018 election. Some of them try to say that there will be no ballot papers in the new parliamentary polls and the election will be held with machine (EVM), with no paper trace. The election results will be fixed according to the wish of those behind the machine. These critics are in cahoots with evil forces at home and abroad.

It's their fault. Just to foil them, the government is having to come up with so many new laws before the election. There is the data protection act, the digital, social media and OTT platform regulation, OTT content-based services regulations and such. Around a month ago, an intellectual had written that even if you write "I am sad today," you may be charged under these laws. After that, many people copied that sentence on Facebook and made all sorts of jokes and wisecracks. This has tarnished the image of the rule of law.

It is to deal with such people that a new law is needed. If these laws are passed, the government will be able to control Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp, Signal and such means of communication, to keep the conspirators' exchange of information under surveillance, and be protected from seditious accusations of the coming election being bogus or an election of votes cast at night.

These laws will be helpful in more ways too. These can be used to prevent the ill-motivated efforts to tarnish the patriotic forces by blaming them for enforced disappearances, killing and torture, can avert the people from various foreign conspiracies and can imbibe them with the 'spirit'.

Such excellent laws can certainly happen in this country!

But perhaps even all these laws will not be enough for the government. These laws may be able to tackle the 'online' miscreants, but the government needs to think up new laws to prevent the 'offline' misdeeds of the offenders on the streets, in the field. I am proposing such new laws here:

  1. Opposition party liability act: Under this law, opposition party will mean 'anti-spirit of the liberation war' parties. They will face arrest and investigation, on the premise that they are responsible for any rioting, violence and clashes. Benefits: If this law comes into effect, then leaders of BNP and its allies can be arrested under the guise of the law for any incident like the New Market-Dhaka College violence or the safe road movement. It will also be easier to spark off such incidents and then repress these elements.
  2. Assaulting Shibir legalisation act: Under this law, anyone can be identified as Shibir, beaten and handed over to the police. The university proctors and provosts will be given legal authority to aid and abet such activities. Benefits: This law can instill fear in the people, particularly the youth and build them up a pro-'spirit' force.
  3. Foreign agent act: Under this law, if the government deems necessary, it can identify any local organisation or researcher funded by foreign grants, as a foreign agent and ensure they are duly tried and punished. Benefits: If this law is enacted, any questions in the future about the election, human rights or democracy, can be silenced. This will hugely save the image of the country.
  4. Family and relations' liability act: In order to control the misinformation spreaders in social media, under this law their family members and relations can be arrested. Benefits: If this law is in force, then those spreading propaganda from abroad will fear the safety of their families and thus can be controlled. With this law in place, then there will be no need to take the risk of filing cases under the controversial DSA against the miscreants' fathers, mothers or siblings (residing in Bangladesh).
  5. Bahini (forces) League impunity act: In order to prevent conspiracies to provide special facilities and impunity in jobs to those openly displaying loyalty to the government's political ideology, such incentives will be made legal under this act. Benefits: If this law is implemented, then the law enforcement will not have to face criticism and will be able to freely present the nation with two development-oriented elections as in 2014 and 2018. This will facilitate the path for Bangladesh to become a mid-income country.

Other than these laws, there can also be ruling party relations free travel act, their driving on the wrong side of the road act, free foreign travel act, project expenditure related impunity act, and so on.

The above mentioned laws are needed in the country. In carrying out such activities, the government has been criticised of having no rule of law. So if a law is enacted in this regard, such criticism will be silenced. The rule of law will thus be firmly established in the country.

Bogus elections, looting government resources, corruption, enforced disappearances, crossfire, torture -- these are not problems in this country. The problem is talking about these and tarnishing the image of the country, obstructing the way to development, belittling the pro-liberation war forces. So, new laws are certainly required to put an end to this.

Even if there is nothing else in this country, long live 'laws' and long live 'rule'!

Asif Nazrul is a professor of law at Dhaka University