Repeal the new anti-terror law

Editorial, NewAge, July 3, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

We are extremely concerned about the implications of the new anti-terrorism law that has been quietly adopted by the military-controlled interim government, seemingly under pressure from certain western powers. While we understand the need for strong anti-terror laws, we agree with the US-based Human Rights Watch that the new ordinance violates fundamental freedoms and basic fair trial rights and feel that the adoption of such a draconian law may lead to severe abuse of power by the state authorities. First of all, such an important law, in our view, ought to be decided on and legislated by a representative parliament following a full and exhaustive debate within parliament and in society at large regarding its requirements and its implications. Instead, the enactment of such a law by an unelected regime, which kept its provisions secret until its adoption thereby preventing any public discourse or consultation on the matter, raises serious questions about the intentions of the present regime.
   

We find several provisions of the new law seriously objectionable. For example, the law defines terrorism much too broadly, contrary to United Nations recommendations. Acts that cause ‘damage to any property of any person’ may be deemed terrorist under the new law, even though acts of terrorism are usually limited to acts committed with the intention of causing death or serious bodily injury, not property crimes. We fear that this law may be used as a political weapon by the military-controlled interim regime to tackle its political adversaries.
   

Under the law, a person can also be held criminally liable of financing terrorism if there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ that he is involved in a financial transaction where the money may be used for terrorist activities. However, ‘reasonable suspicion’ cannot be the burden of proof in any criminal action for it violates the basic criminal law requirement of proving guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’. Similarly, the government can ban an organisation based on ‘reasonable allegations’ of involvement in terrorist activities. 
   

Moreover, the new law criminalises speech in support of a banned organisation without needing to show that the speech directly incited a criminal or terrorist act. According to the Human Rights Watch, ‘to comply with international protections on freedom of expression, laws should only allow for the criminal prosecution of direct incitement to terrorism…’ The organisation also points out that the ‘law allows the imposition of the death penalty for certain offences that cannot be considered among the “most serious crimes”, as required by international law.’ 
   

Given the tendency of our governments, civil as well as military, to circumvent due process, typically to harass or persecute their political adversaries, we are extremely concerned that this new law may become a potent political weapon at the hands of those at the helm of government, instead of being a real deterrent to terrorist activities. We have historically seen such sweeping laws abused by successive governments of the past with limited or no effective application in combating crime. We agree with Brad Williams, the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, that ‘Bangladesh needs fair and effective laws to combat terrorism, but, as we’ve seen in countries around the world, bad counter-terror laws drafted in secret lead to abuses and a loss of public support for legitimate counter-terror efforts.’ We, therefore, urge the current regime to immediately repeal this new act so that an elected parliament can legislate on the matter after an inclusive consultation process that takes into account its every aspect.

 

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