The police pressed charges against him in December last year bringing the same allegation under the newly legislated Digital Security Act (DSA). He was almost ruined, bearing the case expenses.

Rashraj said he used to appear before the court in Brahmanbaria district town on a regular basis, paying Tk 600 for each trip. Now the case has been transferred to the Chattogram Cyber Tribunal and he goes to the port city to appear before the court. Each of his Chattogram trips now cost around Tk 10,000, including the fees of his lawyer and other expenses.

When his family members starve if he does not net fish for a single day, it is quite impossible for him to bear the case expenses.

Like Rashraj, another six people who have been accused in cases under the DSA disclosed their ordeals at an event at the National Museum auditorium in Dhaka on Saturday evening. They are – Ruma Sarker, assistant professor of Begum Badrunnesa Government Girls’ College in Dhaka; Hridoy Chandra Mondol, a teacher from Munshiganj; Sankar Debnath, teacher from Cumilla, Jhuman Das, social worker of Sunamganj; Titu Roy, social worker of Rangpur; and Joydeb Shill of Patuakhali.

The Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee arranged the discussion event, titled “Victims and real criminals under the DSA.”

Ruma Sarker told the event that she did not spread any religious incitement. But the law enforcers stormed into her residence on the night of 19 October, 2021 and picked her up in front of her children. She requested the law enforcers to wait until morning, but they refused and took her away after entrusting the children to a neighbor.

After languishing in jail for 2.5 months, she was released on bail, but is still struggling to get her job back due to the case. She is now being harassed in various ways.

Jhuman Das, who was arrested for hurting religious sentiment on 17 March 2021, said the fellow prisoners had made death threats and attempted to attack her.

Joydeb Shill, arrested under the DSA in May, 2019, said his studies are at risk due to the case filed against him.

Hearing the victims’ ordeals, the chief guest of the event – Posts and Telecommunications Minister Mustafa Jabbar – offered an apology to them in public.

“In the incident that happened to Ruma, they (law enforcers) did not protect the right of a mother and her children to stay home until morning in an independent state. I offer an apology as the state behaved in such a way,” he said.

The minister further said, “We did not fight the liberation war for such a state. I think it is a matter of regret. The ordeals of all present here are tragic. In a sense, I should apologise with folded hands as they are victims of a law that I worked for. Definitely I offer an apology to those who have been harassed under the law.”

Minister Jabbar also noted that the law enforcement agencies and the judiciary are more to blame for such harassment under the DSA.

Shahriar Kabir, president of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, presided over the discussion. He said the government cannot evade the responsibility of such persecution on innocent members of minority groups. Followers of Sanatan Dharma, who are minor in the country, are languishing in jail for months and years under an act which was supposed to protect them.

Addressing the event, former justice Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik said such DSA victims have been subjected to conspiracies in many ways. Bigotry has strengthened its root in the minds of the policemen and they need to be identified first and brought to book.

Lawmaker Aroma Dutta said it is tragic that a certain group has long been harassed under the DSA. The act was legislated for the betterment of state, but it is now causing harm to many. She urged the government to review the act.

International Crimes Tribunal prosecutor Tapas Paul said the law enforcers do not have sound knowledge on the DSA.

The homes of minority groups are being burnt, but the culprits are not being arrested, noted Kajal Debnath, presidium member of Bangladesh Hindu Bouddha Christian Oikya Parishad.

Asif Munir, president of IT Cell of Ekattorer Ghatak Dalal Nirmul Committee, moderated the programme.