Even children are not being spared

Digital Security Act
Prothom Alo illustration

Even children are being charged under the Digital Security Act for spreading offensive remarks, defaming religion and even using electronic devices for gambling.

At least 18 cases have been filed against 20 children between the ages of 13 to 17 in 12 districts of the country.

These figures were collated and disseminated by the non-government organisation Drik, based on reports published in the news media.

Prothom Alo spoke to those involved in these cases.

The cases have been filed by ruling party men, the police, media persons and others in the concerned areas.

If proven guilty, these children may be sentenced to anything between five years to life in prison or fined from Tk 1 million (Tk 10 lakh) to Tk 50 million (Tk 5 crore) or both.

Lawyer Imam Hossain Tareq conducted some of the cases filed under the Digital Security Act in the High Court.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said that anyone under 18 is not qualified to sign documents and cannot vote. The question remains whether such charges can be brought about against them.

He thinks there can be only one objective behind arresting children under this act and that is to scare them.

Assistant inspector general of police (media) Md Kamruzzaman said that there are directives for permission to be taken from the higher authorities to file any case under this act.

He said that there is not always the scope to follow this and sometimes the police become the plaintiff in order to avoid the situation from deteriorating.

The Digital Security Act came into effect on 8 October 2018. In the next three years after that, 4,657 cases were filed under this law. But information has not been available of exactly how many cases were filed against children under this act in total around the country. According to the police headquarters, they do not keep age-based records of the accused.

The boy burst into tears out of fright when he saw the police. The police arrested him and later released him on bail after 17 days. However, he still has to appear in court regularly

Cases against criticism

Six children and teenagers in Jamalpur, Mymensingh, Rangpur, Pirganj, Pirgachha and Narayanganj face charges for sharing 'insulting posts' on Facebook.

This correspondent spoke to the parents of four of them. They said the children share posts without even understanding. After realising their mistakes, they delete the post and even apologise.

One of the children is from Pirgachha, Rangpur. Police arrested him in October last year. His uncle said that his nephew was using a smartphone for online classes.

Suddenly one day the police turned up at their house looking for him. They said that he had insulted the prime minister and Bangabandhu from his mobile phone.

The boy burst into tears out of fright when he saw the police. The police arrested him and later released him on bail after 17 days. However, he still has to appear in court regularly. The plaintiff of the case is the officer-in-charge (OC) of the police station.

A schoolboy of Mymensingh was also made accused in a case under this act. He had uploaded a post addressed to the prime minister. Very soon after, he removed the post and apologised. His family said on the same afternoon, he went to the local Awami League leaders and begged pardon.

Meanwhile, the police came to their house and asked for his mobile phone. His family took him to the police station in the evening. He was released on bail 15 days later. He is due to take his SSC exam this year, but he is so scared that he can hardly study, said his family.

A Class 9 student faced charges in Jamalpur. To save his son, the boy's father said that his tutor has used the boy's account to upload Facebook posts. The tutor said he had to go to jail along with the boy. Another student came to court to give false statements in favour of the student. He was arrested too. The three of them spent two and a half months in jail.

A 15-year-old boy of Chuadanga was accused in a case in Narayanganj. He had shared someone's Facebook post after the death of the Hefazat-e-Islam amir, Shah Ahmed Shafi. Three persons, including the boy, faced charges of making insulting remarks.

Cases for defaming religion

Seven cases were filed against seven persons, including two young girls, for allegedly defaming religion. Six of them were members of the minority community. Inquiries revealed that these young ones were harassed in various way and even their families were ostracised. Even after apologising, the families couldn't avoid legal hassles.

The two arrested young girls were from Sherpur, Bogura and Dinajpur. One of them was a madrasa student. In November 2020 she uploaded a video on Facebook.

The police said that the girl had gone to Kaliakoir in Gazipur. The local people laid siege to their house and she was brought back from Kaliakoir that night. Later a case was filed against her, accusing her of harming communal harmony and creating disorder.

Sub-inspector (SI) of Sherpur police station Tonmoy Kumar Burman, speaking to Prothom Alo, said the police have submitted the charge sheet and the case is underway.

The young girl from Dinajpur spent one and a half years in the juvenile correctional centre. She recently was granted bail. She confessed to her mistake in court and said she was repentant.

Her father told Prothom Alo that he was worried about his daughter. She recently returned but was hardly speaking. Last year she was supposed to have appeared for the higher secondary certificate exam, but could not. The family is worried about what people will be thinking, whether she will be able to continue her studies and so on.