False cases and the new law

Kamal Ahmed | Update:

There was this movie magazine some years ago, perhaps Chitrali or Purbani, which had a gossip column packed with all sorts of gossip about the film stars. It caught the readers’ attention with sensational titbits about actors and actresses, delving into details of their personal lives.

Similar stories are popping up in the news again, though not about the stars of the silver screen. These are about the personalities who make frequent appearances on the small screen, sometimes to discuss and debate and sometimes appearing as news items themselves. It would also be incorrect to say that they are not actors. After all, they often do put on an act, not always practicing what they preach, or even believing in what they avow.

These characters don’t even have to have any clandestine meetings or do anything at all to get into the gossip columns of today. After all, the stories about them are generated by a breed of creative police officers. The police can’t be given all credit, though. The creative germ may actually lie with the political leaders to whom they are accountable.

It has been reported that the recent wave of arrests of BNP leaders and activists has been done on the basis of completely concocted charges and cases. In other words, there is no proof that the crimes which they have been accused of were actually committed at all. The accused includes a person who wasn’t even alive at the time the so-called crime was committed, though the police claim they saw him hurling a cocktail bomb. Another accused person was actually performing hajj at the time that the crime took place.

The truth emerged when those who did not accept the police press releases at face value, actually went ahead to verify the reports. But this did not put a dampener on the prolific creativity. Top leaders of BNP were charged with sabotage in Maghbazar on 30 September, the day of the party’s public rally. They even accused a senior BNP leader in this case though he was in the UK at the time.

Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader’s words have made it clear that there is politics behind these false cases. The police said that there was trouble in Maghbazar, but he said that the cases were filed against the leaders as they had secret information that BNP was planning a dangerous disruption of law and order as their movement had been a failure.

According to BNP, 3740 of their leaders and activists had been accused in 58 false cases in 19 districts and cities. And another 5700 unidentified persons had also been accused. BNP said that the government had resorted to filing these cases to harass them before the election. Their apprehensions are surely not unfounded, given the manner in which the opposition leaders and workers were arrested during the recently city corporation elections.

And anyone can be victims of such circumstances, even those who take BNP’s allegations with a pinch of salt. There is the secretary general of the passengers’ welfare association Mozammel Huq Chowdhury who was accused of extortion. The complainant later told the media that he didn’t even know the accused and he had no complaint. Then another concocted case popped up – the explosives case at Gazipur. The court, though, was not taken in by the police’s fertile fabrications and the case was dismissed. Mozammel Huq was lucky that he wasn’t involved in politics and that the civil society was in his favour due to his work for citizen’s rights. But the police still made sure he had to go though that nightmare named ‘remand’, and neither the state nor the police offered any apology or compensation.

Then there is the acute harassment faced by online new portals for reports which may be genuine, but not to the liking of the powers that be. Section 57 has sent Chittagong University teacher Maidul Islam to jail for expressing different views. A Chhatra League leader of the university accused him of mocking the prime minister. And a large number of editors, journalists and researchers all over the country have similarly faced police harassment for similar allegations. The government promised to amend Section 57 following angry reaction of professionals against its misuse, but instead came up with an even more stringent law. The government reasoned, “How can the harm done by false news ever be compensated?” So the objective of the new digital security act is to protect persons from defamation. When the police arrests any citizen on fake charges and calls a press conference to declare him or her guilty, who will compensate for the harm done to that person?  

* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist. This piece has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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