Published on 12:00 AM, December 04, 2016

News Analysis

Rasraj a victim

Rasraj Das, the fisherman from Brahmanbaria, has been cleared by investigators of the charge of hurting religious sentiments of the Muslims.

But he is still languishing in jail. 

Rasraj may have to languish in jail for another month. A  Brahmanbaria court last Thursday asked the police to submit the report of forensic test to it and adjourned the hearing of Rasraj's appeal prayer. It fixed January 3 for re-hearing.

His mother Nomita Rani Das had to travel to Dhaka from Brahmanbaria on Friday to make an appeal: "Please release my son. He is innocent." 

Four days before her appeal, Brahmanbaria district police disclosed the finding of an investigation that found Rasraj not involved in the crime.

The district police on November 28 said the controversial Facebook image that triggered a wave of communal attacks on Nasirnagar Hindus a month ago was not uploaded from Rasraj's mobile phone.

“The Forensic Department of Police Bureau of Investigation has confirmed it,” Brahmanbaria Additional Superintendent of Police Iqbal Hossain said.

Around a month ago, Fisheries and Livestock Minister Sayedul Hoque, also a lawmaker of the area, had also told the press that Rasraj's did not do it.

Attributing to an "intelligence report" the minister said: “Rasraj Das didn't upload that image demeaning religion on Facebook. According to an intelligence report, it was posted from Dhaka.”

The National Human Rights Commission also said Rasraj did not upload the picture after its own investigation a month ago.

But nothing helped Rasraj. He has been languishing in jail after being arrested on October 29 under section 57 of ICT Act on charge of uploading the controversial image on Facebook. Local police moved to prosecute him.

On prayer of police, a Brahmanbaria court placed Rasraj on a five-day remand on November 2 allowing the law enforcement agencies to interrogate him. Police again sought permission from the court on November 7 to take him to remand for a second time, which was rejected. Rasraj was then denied bail and sent to jail.   

This incident shows once again the police's arbitrary exercise of power. Rasraj is the latest victim of the arbitrary use of policing powers of the state exercised by the law enforcement agencies. 

Section 57 of ICT act gives the police sweeping authority to arrest anybody without warrant. The police enjoy judging powers if any person deliberately publishes or transmits false, obscene and derogatory information on a website or in any other electronic form.

The punishment is also harsh for committing any offence under section 57—a maximum of 14 year's of imprisonment and a maximum fine of Tk. one crore.

Did police find any prima facie evidence against Rasraj before arresting him or filing the case against him under section 57 of the ICT Act?

This draconian legal provision also appears as a threat to freedom of speech and expression.

Human rights activists and media workers have long been demanding the scrapping of the provision saying it was against the people's fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution.

A year ago, Indian police had been enjoying such sweeping authority to arrest a person for posting allegedly "offensive" content on websites under the cyber law. The Supreme Court of India last year struck down the provision in the cyber law saying it was against the constitution.

Interestingly, the original ICT Act of 2006 here did not give the police the sweeping authority to arrest anybody without warrant. Police had to seek permission from the authorities concerned to arrest any person under the law. But a change in the law in 2013 cut people's protection and empowered police.

Empowered by the amendment, Brahmanbaria police did not think twice before arresting Rasraj under section 57 of ICT Act and putting him behind bars. 

Arrest of Rasraj plunged his family in a crisis no ordinary family could handle. His father on Friday narrated how they have been on the run for the last one month.

His father, mother and two brothers went into hiding following the attack on Hindus in Nasirnagar. They had been fleeing from one village to another for a month. Their fear was more real than others in their community.

Should Rasraj and his family wait for another month for his release from jail? Shouldn't the court re-fix the date for hearing of his bail prayer to ensure his release as soon as possible?

The other crucial question is: will anybody be held responsible for the untold suffering of Rasraj and his family members? If those who are responsible for it are not held accountable, such incidents may continue.

Many people like Rasraj may have to suffer from the arbitrary use of police powers under section 57 of the ICT Act as it happened in the past under the controversial section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure that had empowered police to arrest anybody on suspicion.