The Data Protection Bill, Anti-Discrimination Bill, New Social Media and OTT Regulations, and Mass Media Employees Bill aim to protect citizens’ rights, but none won’t, experts said.
Most of these laws and regulations were formulated without consulting relevant stakeholders, and even those who were involved, their recommendations were not taken into account, experts said in a webinar yesterday.
The discussion entitled “The issue of citizens’ rights in recent era bills” was organized by Nagorik, a rights platform.
These laws were necessary, but not in the way they were formed, they observed.
“There is a clear need for a data protection law. But the question is whether the proposed law meets those needs,” said Supreme Court attorney Jyotirmoy Barua.
It should be checked whether the laws have been formulated in a democratic way, whether the stakeholders have been consulted during the process and whether their recommendations have been included.
“For most of these projects, we only learned that they had been formulated when they were tabled in parliament as bills,” Barua said.
Tashnuva Anan Shishir, a trans rights activist, pointed out that the anti-discrimination law itself contains discriminatory language, as stakeholder consultations were not taken into account.
The Anti-Discrimination Bill 2022 was tabled in parliament on April 5.
“The bill uses the word ‘third sex’ to refer to people who are not cis-gender. That word is discriminatory,” she said. “Who are the members of the committee that make these laws? Were there any trans people on this committee?
Shale Ahmed, executive director of Bondhu, a women’s rights organisation, said their recommendations were taken but “operated”.
According to the provisions of the anti-discrimination law, anyone facing discrimination will have to go through a period of at least 195 days just to get a verdict, Barua pointed out.
“The implementation of this law will be difficult if justice is caught in a bureaucracy.
Filmmaker Belayat Hossain Mamun explained how over-the-top platforms were a way out of a repressive censorship regime and how new regulations for OTT platforms would clamp them down completely.
The draft directive on OTT operations was published on the website of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on February 3
“In the past, during stakeholder consultation sessions during the drafting of laws, the government did not follow our recommendations,” Hossain said. He said all avenues for the industry to thrive were blocked.
Also in February, the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission produced a set of regulations to govern social media.
The provisions are such that it becomes apparent the government is keen to identify those who criticize it, speakers said.
Abdullah Al Mamun, a professor at Rajshahi University, said: “Women and children regularly face harassment on social media. We have so many laws to control the digital space, but then why don’t we see them implemented to protect our rights? “
Speaking about the Mass Media Employees Bill, which was tabled in parliament last month, Jyotirmoy Barua said that with such laws, journalists are made to believe that it is for their welfare and for their rights.
“When stakeholders are not consulted in the development of a law, when legislators are not accountable to citizens, [that is when] repressive laws are created that only serve to protect the interests of the powerful,” said CR Abrar, professor of international relations at the University of Dhaka.