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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 219
December 17, 2005

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Human Rights Advocacy
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Human Rights Advocacy

This is outrageous!

Sultana Kamal

Just when people are demanding a law on right to information in Bangladesh news came that the Government by a Presidential Order promulgated the ordinance legalising 'tele-tapping'.

The joke went around that the government has struck a new interpretation of right to information. They have ensured their right to dig information even by tapping telephonic conversation of whomever they choose to check on.

People's instant comment was not that they were not doing it all these years, but now they will do it with absolute impunity and flagrantly under the blanket of legitimacy.

Even in the most jovial note, this is outrageous. But seriously, it is a matter of grave concern. It is a matter of grave concern not only because the government now has the legal right to penetrate into the private life of the citizens, it is definitely a very direct indication that the government wants to control people's freedom of expression and mobility a direct

Right to information is our basic right

offence to the basic norm of privacy and attack on people's sense of dignity.

Even in the face of the Law Minister's assurance that this law shall only be used for a limited time and with caution this in no way mitigates the attack on citizens' sense of security and privacy. It is not a question of whether the Government is actually tapping someone's conversation, but the knowledge that they are open to invasion of their privacy falls foul of the basic notions of privacy, decency and ethics which are underlying principles of citizens' rights. While “Tele-tapping” by itself is not a new phenomenon and not peculiar to the present government, but no government except for the most undemocratic military regimes had shown such open disregard for people's right to private sharing of thoughts, views or opinions.

The government's act, as I would see it, betrays their intention to control the society's flow of information in order to intervene in the most basic mechanism of construction of people's power through which they are able to demand accountability and transparency.

It is again a matter of grave concern especially in the present political context where any opposition to the government (not necessarily from the opponents in the election or power politics) is deemed to be anti-state and a conspiracy against them.

Moreover, in these days of highly advanced technological excellence, no one can be totally free of the fear of manipulation by the interested parties. Where there is very little confidence in the minds of the people that protection of one's human rights is one of the fundamental motivations of the state organs, be it executive, judiciary or the legislature, the ordinance has definitely further eroded the existing sense of insecurity in the minds of the citizens.

No doubt, many would argue, and with absolute correctness that the state (or government) in particular situations is perfectly authorised to promulgate such ordinances, enact such laws.

But then at the same time, the sate or the government must have full confidence of the citizens that the intention is bona fide and that the state and the government has acted in a way that people themselves, even if not properly consulted, have consented to such promulgation and enactment. Are we seeing any process of consensus working in Bangladesh?

Even until today the government as the government, is reluctant to admit that the situation needs to be handled with more clarity and firmness. Some ministers, members of the ruling party, administrative authority, police give certain statements which are immediately refuted, contradicted or denied by another minister, member or officer.

Actions taken by the government reminds us of the often quoted example of letting loose the mad elephant and pushing the innocent victims behind bars. Number of examples canbe cited here to establish that the very groups who claim themselves to be engaged in the same line of political activism as the groups engaged in using terrorism to realise their plans and also with clear links with them are allowed to further their agenda with full government protection and patronage whereas citizens' activism around victory day functions were in some cases forcibly and others tactically foiled by the government authorities in several districts in the past few days.

If the government had listened to the many voices that struggled to draw their attention to the actions of Banglabhai and JMJB in 2004, probably some lives could have been saved.

How can the Government ever absolve itself of its responsibility for the loss of innocent lives, rampant disruption of normalcy and peace in citizens' minds, and downslide of the overall health of the state.

It never can. Reparation will have to be made. Either today or tomorrow. At least in terms of the tele-tapping let the Government come clean and explain how and exactly to what extent it will use the new provisions and what safeguards citizens' can hold them accountable to. If not, citizens' outrage will be increased another notch.

Photo: Kahonews.com

The author is a human rights activist.


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