On Tuesday, January 3rd, a former leader of a Hindu group was sentenced to seven years in jail in Bangladesh over an alleged ‘blasphemous’ Facebook post shared in 2017.
Rakesh Roy, a Bangladeshi Hindu and the organising secretary of Bangladesh Jatiya Hindu Mohajote, was sentenced to a rigorous seven-year prison term by Sylhet Cyber Tribunal judge Abu Kashem. In addition to serving a prison sentence, a fine of Taka 1 Lakh has also been imposed on him.
Notably, Rakesh Roy was arrested on June 7, 2017 after an Islamic extremist Fujayel Ahmed lodged a case against Roy on June 5, 2017 under section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICT), 2006, which is now known as Digital Security Act, at the Zakiganj Police Station. In his complaint, Fujayel Ahmed alleged that Rakesh Roy had insulted Prophet Muhammad in a Facebook post.
Back in 2017, Sylhet’s Additional Superintendent of Police, Suggayan Chakma had stated during a press conference that Rakesh Roy was arrested from Lalakhal in Jaintiapur upazila.
SP Chakma had said that a screenshot of Rakesh Roy’s ‘objectionable’ Facebook post ‘insulting’ the Prophet Muhammad had been shared widely online. This led to protests in Zakiganj demanding Roy’s arrest.
However, Rakesh Roy has denied the allegations, saying that the objectionable post was made from a fake account created in his name to frame him. He said in his defence that one Abdul Aziz was attempting to convert the Zakiganj Hindus. He objected to the action, which prompted a vested group to create a false Facebook account in his name and post offensive comments to frame him in a false case of blasphemy.
Disappointed with the verdict, Rakesh Roy’s counsel Ishtiaq Ahmed Chaudhary said that he would appeal to the higher court.
It is notable that in 2017, a Bangladeshi American named Sitangshu Guha started a petition (now closed) to Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina seeking the release of Rakesh Roy.
In the petition, Guha claimed that Rakesh Roy, who belonged to a Krishok League and Jatiyo Hindu Oikko Mahajot, was actively working to protect Hindu rights against the “vehement provocation” by an extremist named Abdul Aziz. He further stated that after Abdul Aziz was arrested, a conspiracy was hatched to frame Roy in a false blasphemy case.
Furthermore, the petition emphasised the misuse of section 57 of the ICT Act to persecute and imprison members of minority communities. The petition also made note of the fact that Islamists frequently disseminate rumours to incite hatred toward Hindus and other minority communities before locking them up in violation of section 57 of the ICT Act. The ultimate objective of the ICT Act’s misuse is to oust Hindus from their ancestral homes.
It is pertinent to mention that section 57 of the ICT Act had been widely criticised and even called draconian. According to Section 57 of the ICT Act, anybody who published false, obscene, defamatory, tends to deprave and corrupt its audience, causes or may cause “deterioration in law and order,” harmed the reputation of the state or a person, or “causes or may cause hurt to religious belief” through content in electronic form was subjected to punishment. The ICT act was widely used against the people criticising the government, politicians as well as against the minority communities.
The violating Section 57 was among five contentious portions of the ICT Act that the government ultimately chose to remove in 2018. This was replaced by Digital Security Act (DSA) which came into force from October, 2018. However, because the DSA basically included these portions with even heavier sanctions, not much has changed in Bangladesh, as the critics of the government and people belonging to minority communities are still stuffed in jails by exploiting the law.