Guards, peons witnesses in anti-state conspiracy case on FB

Writer Mushtaq Ahmed

Cartoonist Ahmed Kabir Kishore, writer Mushtaq Ahmed and Rashtrochinta activist Didarul Islam Bhuiyan have spread conspiratorial statements and rumours against the state through social media platforms including Facebook, Messenger and WhatsApp, the charge sheet says. And six civilians, including security guards of houses and malls, peon and relatives, have been made witnesses of the online activities of the accused.

These witnesses knew what types of mobile phones the three accused had used, the names of their Facebook accounts, which Facebook page they posted their controversial posts on and what sort of conversations the accused had online, records of the charge sheet filed in the court last month revealed. Though five out of six witnesses told Prothom Alo they didn’t give any such testimony to the police.

Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) picked up Kishore, Mushtaq and Didarul from their residences in Lalmatia and Kakrail area in May last year. Then they were charged under the Digital Security Act. Mushtaq died in jail on Thursday night, Didarul is out on bail and Kishore is in prison.

According to the charge sheet filed by police, other than the members of RAB, police and Criminal Investigation Department (CID), six people also testified in the case. Three of them are security guards of houses and malls, one is a peon and another is a physician while one’s identity couldn’t be verified.

Cartoonist Kishore lived at 122/1 Kakrail. Three of six witnesses reside in this house and its adjacent areas. The other three of the witnesses live in Lalmatia’s ‘Parampara’ residence, where Mushtaq Ahmed lived.

Prothom Alo talked to five of these six witnesses. One of them, Md Habibur Rahman, is the peon of the building next to Kishore’s residence. Another witness Md Salauddin Bishwas was a private company’s staff on the fourth floor of that building. Witness Md Abdul Hakim is a security guard of nearby Moubon Super Market.

Habibur Rahman told Prothom Alo, “The police came long after the day (that Kishore was detained). They asked me whether I know that RAB conducted a raid on the neighboring house. I told them that I’d heard about it but didn't know why the raid took place. And I didn’t sign any document either.”

Security guard Md Abdul Hakim said, “One day at noon, police arrived and said, "Come here, We need your signature. Many days later, a certain policeman Mohsin Sardar came and took three of us somewhere. You can’t enter the place wearing a lungi and without a mask. Then he made three photocopies of a document then told us to sign it. So, we did.” In reply to the query on whether he knows Kishore, Abdul Hakim said he saw the cartoonist for the first time on that day.

Three other who have been made witnesses, are Md Chan Mia, 35, and Md Jabbar Khan, 62, security guards of Mushtaq’s residence, and physician Riyasat Alam, 47, a relative of Mushtaq. All three told Prothom Alo that they didn’t give any testimony to police. Mobile phone and digital device owned by Mushtaq were seized on the night when he was detained. They just signed on the list of the confiscated items after being instructed by RAB.

When asked whether he knew about what Mushtaq wrote on Facebook and with whom Mushtaq had the conspiratorial conversation, security guard Md Jabbar Khan said, “They (Mushtaq) are the (apartment) owners and I am just a gatekeeper. How would I know what they do?” Jabbar said he doesn’t know what Facebook is either.

Records of the charge sheet submitted to the court show testimonies of five of six civilians and a RAB constable are exactly the same, even every comma and full stop.

Former additional inspector general of police Mokhlesur Rahman told Prothom Alo if depositions of all witnesses are so similar, it means the investigating officer didn’t want to do the hard work. Maybe the investigating officer thought that if the testimony differs the case gets weaker. A fair investigation into the case is necessary for the sake of justice. There are many debates on the Digital Security Act. In this case, the investigating officer must be careful so that no question arises, he added.

Eleven face lawsuit

On 6 May last year, RAB filed this case against 11 people including 5-6 unidentified with Ramna police station under the Digital Security Act. The case statement said propaganda and rumours are being run knowingly from Facebook page ‘I am Bangladeshi’ to tarnish the image and reputation of the state or spread confusion or some such motive. Sayer Zulkarnain, Ami Kishore, Ashik Imran, Philip Shumakhar, Swapan Wahid and Mushtaq Ahmed run the page as its admin.

Sayer Zulkarnain is believed to be the person who appeared as Sami in the documentary ‘All the Prime Minister’s Men’ recently aired in Qatar-based TV channel Al Jazeera.

Sub-inspector of Ramna police station and investigating officer, Mohsin Sardar submitted the charge sheet against cartoonist Kishore, writer Mushtaq and Rashtrochinta activist Didarul in the case on 11 January this year. Charges were dropped against former director of Dhaka Stock Exchange Minhaz Mannan Emon, who was also arrested in same case. Didarul is now out on bail. Petition was filed to drop charges against others as their full addresses were not found.

Later the court has ordered for further investigation into the case following the prosecution’s appeal. Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime of police is now probing the case.

Lawyer of cartoonist Kishore, Jyotirmoy Barua told Prothom Alo that Kishore and others have been made accused in the case as ordered. Full investigation is to be completed in 105 days. But police did not plead to the tribunal for time extension in the case. They have been working at their will, he added.

Director of RAB’s legal and media wing, Lt Col Ashik Billah said the case was based on the objective information and all facts and evidences have been included in the case statement, he added.

CID gave the investigating officer a CD containing conversations that Mushtaq had through different communication tools. Police and RAB called conversation ‘conspiratorial’. However, what the conversation content has not been cited in the charge sheet.

Investigating officer Mohsin Sardar told Prothom Alo that Mushtaq had conversation with others. He talked about thwarting the democracy, Mohsin added.

How did the testimony of all witnesses match exactly the same? How do the security guards of the house know which phones the residents use, their Facebook accounts and with whom the residents had the conspiratorial conversation? In reply to these queries, investigating officer Mohsin said, “Are you interrogating me. It’s not a matter of your concern.”

What the digital devices contained

Evidences seized from the accused were sent to the CID for forensic test. These include mobile phones of Samsung, Xiaomi, and Kingstar brands, a portable hard disk, 200 CDs, Apple Mac mini CPU and 24 pages of screenshots.

Inspector KM Nahid of CID’s IT forensic lab writes in a report that, no information related to the case have been found as stated in the forensic lab report after manually analysing Samsung and Kingstar mobile phones, hard disk, CPU and 200 CDs. Several posts of Mushtaq Ahmed and cartoons painted by Ahmed Kabir Kishore are found in Xiaomi mobile phone. However, no post matches the screenshots.

Regional head of Article 19 working on freedom of expression, Faruq Faisel told Prothom Alo that Kishore, Mushtaq and Didar didn’t say anything wrong. They didn’t threat anyone. They just posted status. People became angry for various reasons during coronavirus pandemic. Many people didn’t get the opportunity to speak face to face. They have chosen virtual world to express their opinions. People must be allowed to speak as long as they are not curbing other people’s rights and not spreading malice and hatred.

The investigating officer attached several cartoons and statuses of Kishore with the charge sheet of the case. In which, Kishore had made fun of and comments on many issues including separate hospitals for VIP’s COVID-19 treatment, not paying the salary of hundreds of government physicians, ‘vote rigging’ and ‘rice stealing’,

About writer Mushtaq, police said in the charge sheet that he runs a Facebook page “Crocodile Farmer’. His various sarcastic comments have been mentioned in the charge sheet. Charges have been brought against Rashtrochinta activist Didarul for making sarcastic comments in Facebook on various issues including the government and election. These allegations have been mentioned in the charge sheet.

Former chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Mizanur Rahman told Prothom Alo Kishore, Mushtaq, Didarul didn’t speak against the state. They expressed views after getting angry over the country’s existing system, injustice, torture and not getting constitutional rights. And it obviously falls under freedom of expression, he added.

This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna