All but one amici curiae oppose petition

Staff Correspondent | Updated at 12:24am on February 16, 2021

Five of six amici curiae on Monday opposed a writ petition filed by a Supreme Court lawyer seeking ban on Al Jazeera television channel in Bangladesh for airing a documentary titled ‘All the prime minister’s men’ on February 1.

Former attorneys general AJ Mohammad Ali and Fida M Kamal and lawyers Kamal ul Alam, Probir Neogi and Shahdeen Malik opposed the petition, stating that petitioner M Amanul Kabir Emon, also a ruling Awami League leader, was not an aggrieved person.

Former law minister Abdul Matin Khasru, also a  ruling party lawmaker, however, opposed the arguments of the five lawyers, stating that the petitioner had an interest and was very much aware of the issue being a lawyer.

The court can issue necessary orders to block or ban Al Jazeera in Bangladesh to stop recurrence of airing such a ‘defamatory documentary’ in future, he said.

The online High Court bench of Justice Md Mozibur Rahman Miah and Justice Md Kamrul Hossain Mollah adjourned the  hearing until 11:00am tomorrow for hearing the attorney general AM Amin Uddin.

On February 10, the High Court decided to hear opinions of the six lawyers whether the broadcast of the Doha-based Al Jazeera could be banned or blocked in Bangladesh.

The Al Jazeera report, an hour-long film with narration, accused the Bangladesh Army chief, General Aziz Ahmed, of providing illegal supports to his brothers, convicted and fugitive, to establish and run businesses abroad, that too, with the tacit approval of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina.

The court asked for the lawyers’ opinion on whether the writ petition filed by Amanul seeking a ban on the broadcast without hearing the television channel authorities was maintainable and if the writ petitioner was ‘an aggrieved person’.

The lawyers were also asked to explain whether it was necessary to remove or delete or block streaming of the Al Jazeera documentary and an article titled ‘The gangster, the general and the prime minister of Bangladesh.’

Former attorney general AJ Mohammad Ali told the court that the government was empowered by the Digital Security Act 2018 to ban or remove or block any content of Al-Jazeera but without doing so, it condemned the report, stating that the government of Sheikh Hasina believes the freedom press and thoughts.

‘It is not the duty of the judiciary to ask the government to take action against Al Jazeera since the government does not want any tussle with the international TV channel being aware of the incident,’ Fida M Kamal told the court, adding that the government has all the mechanism to stop or block any content of all digital platforms.

Kamal ul Alam said that the writ petitioner was not an aggrieved person and his petition was not maintainable as he did not demand an explanation from the designated authorities of the government as the constitution requires him to ask them why they did not exercise Section 8 of the Digital Security Act to ban or block the Al Jazeera documentary or telecast of its transmission in Bangladesh.

Probir Neogi told the court that the lawyer had no legal right to file the writ petition seeking action against Al-Jazeera as per the Appellate Division-set 14 criteria defining ‘aggrieved person’.  

It is the function of the executive not the judiciary to take action against Al Jazeera, Probir said, adding, ‘The government’s inaction always means action.’

Asked to comment whether the High Court had the authority to block or ban transmission of an international TV channel like Al Jazeera, Probir told the court that freedom of the press that includes TV channels are guaranteed under Article 39 of the constitution could not curtained unless ‘reasonable restrictions’ were imposed by passing a law.

Asked to give another opinion whether the court could issue an order suo motu over the Al-Jazeera issue as the present petitioner had no authority to file the writ petition over the issue, Probir told the judges that the constitution did not empower the High Court to issue any order if anyone did not file an application.

The petitioner could not make any ground in support of a ban on the telecast of Al-Jazeera, Shahdeen Malik told the court.

Although Shahdeen had initially opined that the petitioner was an aggrieved person who could file the writ petition being a Supreme Court lawyer, the amicus curiae later withdrew the opinion as it was contradictory to his other contentions over the issue.