Blasphemy means contempt of religion, condemnation of religion, or insulting God. In general, blasphemy means dishonor of religious beliefs.
Is there any Blasphemy Law in Bangladesh?
There is no blasphemy law in Bangladesh, though a secular version of Blasphemy law exists in the country in Section 57. It is easy to see that there is no real difference between Section 57 and a blasphemy law. The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act was first introduced on October 8, 2006. Then, in 2009, an amendment was made according to Section 18 of the Act. On August 20, 2013, a number of amendments were made in several sections of this law through an ordinance. From the beginning, Section 57 of this Act has threatened freedom of speech. Many people live with the fear of persecution because of the blasphemy-like nature and punishment of Section 57 of the ICT Act.
Section 57 of ICT Act
A rough translation of section 57 (1) says: “If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in any other electronic form any material which is false and obscene and if anyone sees, hears, or reads it having regard to all relevant circumstances, its effect is such as to influence the reader to become dishonest or corrupt, or causes to deteriorate or creates possibility to deteriorate law and order, prejudice the image of the state or person or causes to hurt or may hurt religious belief or instigate against any person or organization, then this activity will be regarded as an offense.”
Whoever commits an offense under this section shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term that may extend to a maximum of fourteen years and a minimum of seven years, with a fine that may extend to Taka ten million (approximately USD $120,000).
Section 57 of the ICT Act in Conflict with the Constitution
Article 39 of the Constitution reads, “Subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offense—the right of every citizen to freedom of speech and expression; and freedom of the press, are guaranteed.”
Section 57 of the ICT Act violates the specific criteria of the constitution. However, law enforcement agencies or anyone aggrieved can file a lawsuit against anyone under this section. Often, the accused is assaulted before the trial by the police or other officials.
The various provisions within Section 57 have not been clearly defined. This is particularly problematic regarding to the one about hurting religious beliefs. Bloggers, journalists, writers, online activists, human rights activists, and gay rights activists have been under the microscope of the government and threats from Islamic fundamentalists for online materials that may have been perceived by some to have hurt their religious beliefs. As a result, peoples’ freedom of thought and expression is being violated. The conscious people of Bangladesh are being restricted from speaking honestly and truthfully. Basically, if any person criticizes the government and/or religious fundamentalists in Bangladesh, he or she is arrested through often unconstitutional means, locked up without bail, and then charged. If found guilty, the punishments often exceed the ones seen during British colonial rule.
REFERENCES: Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006, and Article 39 of the Constitution of Bangladesh.
International Blasphemy Rights Day is part of CFI’s mission to pursue equality for atheists and non-believers. IBRD is a day to support free speech and the rights of those who disagree with religious views to voice their opinions peacefully. Join the cause and support International Blasphemy Rights Day and work like it today!