The Information Commission has finally delivered its verdict in favour of human rights activist Saad Hammadi and has asked the Bangladesh Police to provide him with data on Digital Security Act (DSA) lawsuits, within 20 days.
Chief Information Commissioner Mortuza Ahmed announced the order on Tuesday, seven months after the complaint had been filed with the commission.
In the meantime, the commission verified that complainant Saad, who works for Amnesty International's South Asia regional office in Sri Lanka, is a Bangladeshi citizen and has a right to seek the data.
Earlier, on 7 June 2021, Saad Hammadi submitted an application under the Right to Information Act to Police Headquarters, seeking statistics on lawsuits filed under the DSA across the country since its enforcement in 2018, and the numbers of the accused and arrested.
Refused, he lodged an appeal with the Inspector General of Police on July 18 and a complaint with the Information Commission on 10 August 2021.
"We have heard arguments from the complainant and the police several times. We also verified the nationality of the complainant. The Commission came to the verdict as the information sought by the complainant should be provided as per the RTI act," Mortuza Ahmed said, announcing the verdict virtually.
Saad Hammadi himself and Taiful Seraj, a lawyer representing the Bangladesh Police, were present during the announcement.
"Although nine months have elapsed since my RTI application, I am pleased that the Information Commission of Bangladesh on Tuesday delivered its verdict in my favour and asked the Bangladesh Police to deliver the information within the next 20 days," Saad tweeted, immediately after the verdict announcement.
When contacted, he told The Business Standard that anyone would feel harassed and intimidated for the anti-state labelling the state lawyer tried to slap on him, simply for seeking information.
"I think my case and the Information Commission's verdict set an example in ensuring people's right to information and also sent a clear message to state agencies that they should ensure transparency and accountability in their functions."
Taiful Seraj told TBS that Police Headquarters would decide on their next course of action after reviewing the written copy of the verdict.
Several senior officials at Police Headquarters, on condition of anonymity, told TBS that the Bangladesh Police might soon file a writ petition with the High Court against the verdict of the Information Commission.
Earlier, the police had refused to provide Saad Hammadi the data, saying that the release of such information would hamper implementation of the law and would disrupt public safety.
"It is not possible to disclose the sought information. Disclosure of such information could hamper law enforcement, increase crime, disrupt public safety, and the fair trial of pending cases, affecting the investigation, arrest and punishment of offenders," says a letter that police issued to Saad before he went to the Information Commission.
The commission heard the complaint on 11 January this year and set 2 February for the verdict. Instead of delivering the verdict on the day, the commission asked the police to confirm the identity and citizenship of the complainant as he stays outside the country.
Later, police confirmed that Saad Hammadi is a Bangladeshi citizen and he had no other issues of concern.