Three cases are being filed on average every day under the Digital Security Act at present. Such cases may increase by 60 percent compared to last year, say sources in the police headquarters.
Persons from various professions, different strata of society, age groups, even minors, have been arrested in recent times for ‘derogatory’ posts on social media, sharing such posts, drawing satirical cartoons, exchanging ‘objectionable’ e-mails and chatting among themselves. At least 38 of those who have been arrested are journalists.
Assistant inspector general of police at the police headquarters, Md Sohel Rana, told Prothom Alo that the arrests had been made on charges of cyber crimes such as harming persons through online or digital fraud, spreading rumours and lies to disrupt the law and order situation. Last year 1,135 persons were arrested in 732 cases under this act. In the first two months of this year, 339 persons were arrested in 165 cases under the act.
This means that, on average, three cases have been filed per day. An official of the police headquarters, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that if this continues, there will be a 60 percent increase in such cases by the end of the year, compared to last year.
The human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) collected reports of 24 cases last year. In the first 6 months of this year, this totalled 54. A large number of the accused persons, facing charges after the coronavirus outbreak, had made comments or drawn cartoons regarding relief being stolen, mismanagement in the health sector, and other corruption. Some of them were first picked up by the security forces and then later sent to court under the Digital Security Act.
Human rights activists have been demanding that this law be cancelled, after the recent arrest of a ninth grade school student, university teachers and students, a cartoonist and human rights activists. They posted pictures of their demands on placards in the social media. They are holding virtual discussions on the issue. On its Facebook page, Rashtrachinta wrote, ‘I want to call a thief a thief, a vote thief a vote thief, a robber a robber, a killer a killer, a corrupt person a corrupt person. Abolish the Digital Security Act.’
The age of the accused was recorded as 26, but after the police arrested him, they found he was only 15. After being presented at court, the accused was then sent on to the juvenile correction centre.
Didarul Bhuiyan, a member of the political platform Rashtrachinta, has been arrested under the Digital Security Act and is now in jail. He had regularly been writing about discrepancies and misdeeds pertaining to relief distribution.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua said, the main objective of this law is to harass people. Instead of taking action against those stealing relief goods, the one speaking about the theft is being nabbed. Many try to justify the act by saying it can be used when women are victims of abuse, but there is the pornography control act for that. The ICT Act 2006 could also have been amended. The cases that are being filed have nothing to do with protecting women.
Human eights organisations and lawyers have said that the cases are mostly be filed under sections 25, 25, 29 and 31 of the act. These have no specific mention about protecting women. If anyone feels insulted or humiliated by anything published, they can file charges. These clauses also can pertain to tarnishing the state’s image or reputation, spreading confusion, intentionally lying or fully or partially twisting the truth. In the case of defamation or disrupting law and order, anyone can file charges. Cases are being filed for the use, sale, supply, etc, of other persons’ information. Under section 26, these are considered to be crimes.
Who are being charged, what are the charges?
A look 50 cases filed in the first 6 months of this year, reveals that 6 of the cases have been filed for making derogatory remarks against the father of the nation, the president and the prime minister. The accused includes a ninth grader of Taragaon High School in Bhaluka, Mymensingh. Hanif Mohammed Nipun filed charges at the Bhaluka police station , saying that obscene language was used to insult the prime minister on Facebook. The age of the accused was recorded as 26, but after the police arrested him, they found he was only 15. After being presented at court, the accused was then sent on to the juvenile correction centre.
Sub inspector (SI) of Bhaluka police station, Matiur Rahman, is investigating the case. He told Prothom Alo that the boy had made a derogatory remark about the prime minister regarding the decision to cut 50 taka from a 100 taka mobile phone recharge. He later removed the post from Facebook and apologised. The phone has been sent to the CID forensic lab to check whether he had posted any such comments. The boy’s father is a farmer.
There are cases against others for remarks against road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader, the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, the law minister, member of parliament Mumtaz and Engineer Moazzem Hossain Ratan MP. A case was filed under the Digital Security Act for comments made about the recently deceased former member of parliament Makbul Hossain for forcefully occupying someone else’s house for 26 years. Saifuzzaman Shikhar filed defamation charges against 32 persons including journalist Shafiqul Islam Kajol.
Cases have been filed against folk singer Shariyat Bayati and several others for alleged religious defamation.
During this time, there has been one case for defaming a judge, one for fraud and one for obscenity regarding a girlfriend’s pictures. A case was filed in Panchagarh for posting a picture of an imaginary BNP cabinet. There has been a case against a journalist for airing news on a YouTube channel without permission.
There have been cases for raising questions about relief distribution and health sector management during the coronavirus times. Charges have been filed for sharing pictures of a certain company’s buses running during the lockdown and also of farmers harvesting unripe crops.
Four cases were filed for criticising the recently deceased former health minister Md Nasim. Arrested in these cases were a teacher of Begum Rokeya University, a teacher of Rajshahi University, a student of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, and a person from Satkhira.
Who are filing the cases?
Under the Digital Security Act, it is not necessary that the person against whom the criticism is directed or cartoon drawn, is the one who will file the case. Anyone can file a case under this act. Awami League leaders and leaders of the party’s affiliated organisations are filing suits for the defamation of ministers and members or parliament, the paid employees or supporters of MPs and ministers are filing cases on their behalf.
The case against the ninth grader in Bhaluka was filed by Hanif Mohammed Nipun, general secretary of the No. 10 Habinari union Jubo League. Towards the beginning of the year, on 7 January, former vice president of Noakhali district Awami League and owner of Toma Group, Ataur Rahman, filed a case against MG Akbar, editor of the paper Jatiya Orthoniti. Saifuzzaman Shikhar MP himself filed cases against 32 persons including the editor or Manavzamin, Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, reporters Al Amin and Shafiqul Islam Kajol. Two leaders of Jubo Mahila League also separately filed cases against Shafiqul Islam Kajol. Chhatra League leader Ramizuddin Mishu filed cases against three persons including a local journalist for a ‘fake’ report about a woman selling her hair to buy milk for her child.
The complainants of various also include judges and members of RAB and the police force. The first case this year has filed by a judge, Shawkat Hossain, against a man named Nesauddin, accusing him of making death threats and spreading obscene reports.
The Narsingdi police outpost in-charge filed cases against three journalists for quoting the police without actually speaking to them.
RAB filed charges against 11 persons, including cartoonist Ahmed Kabir.
A case has filed against journalist Mahbubul Alam Lablu for airing news over YouTube without permission. The case was filed by a certain resident of Hossaini Dalan, ‘patriotic citizen’ Ashiqur Rahman.
At least three police officers, on condition of anonymity, said sometimes the police have no alternative but to accept these cases. They are often obliged to take these cases dealing with defamation of top government leadership, ministers, MPs or political leaders.
The university administration has joined in too, with the Begum Rokeya University’s registrar filing a case at the Tajhat police station in Rangpur, against teacher of the university Sirajam Munira. The registrar of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, Mohammad Ishfaqul Hossain, filed charges against student of the university, Mahir Chowdhury. Later the university authorities, facing protest from the students and civil society, asked for the case to be withdrawn. Ishfaqul has said that they have submitted an application to withdraw the case.
Lawyer Taposh Kumar Saha brought charges against Rajshahi University teacher Kazi Zahidur Rahman for sharing objectionable comments in social media about the former health minister Mohammed Nasim.
What the police say
The police headquarters have issued directives to accept cases filed under the Digital Security Act. It was said that before accepting the case, the matter should be investigated. Speaking to Prothom Alo, at least three police officers, on condition of anonymity, said sometimes the police have no alternative but to accept these cases. They are often obliged to take these cases dealing with defamation of top government leadership, ministers, MPs or political leaders.
AIG of the police headquarters Sohel Rana said the police always try to ensure that all criteria of accepting a case are met. If there are any exceptions to this, the police can look into the matter based on specific complaints.