Despite having “very sophisticated” technologies to track down radical Islamists who use online platforms to spread jihadi propaganda and issue death threats to secular people, law enforcers cannot act against the fanatic elements proactively in the absence of clear directives.
Also, the government lacks the political will to go tough on religious bigots, fearing consequences. Exploiting the situation, fundamentalists continue with their hate campaign and even threatening to kill progressive bloggers.
The Daily Star has gathered this through talking to about a dozen independent security experts, top Rab and CID officials and online activists.
“The law enforcement agencies are working in isolation [to tackle cyber stalking]. There is no dedicated organisation with research capability and understanding of jihadi contents. Often, law enforcers cannot intervene accordingly because they fail to comprehend the extent of the threats,” said security analyst Maj Gen (retd) Abdur Rashid, also executive director of the Institute of Conflict Law and Development Studies.
The cybercrime issue comes to the fore in the wake of the killing of Avijit Roy on the Dhaka University campus on the night of February 26. The writer-blogger had been receiving death threats online for about a year from religious fundamentalists, including the now-arrested Shafiur Rahman Farabi.
But while the cops sat on the threats on Avijit's life, they took relatively prompt action against the people posting critical comments about political figures. Just two days before Avijit was hacked to death, Chittagong police arrested a union-level leader of Jatiyatabadi Jubo Dal, BNP's youth wing, for uploading a doctored image of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on his Facebook wall.
Iftekhar Mahmud Jipson, Juba Dal president of Shinguli union of Mirsarai upazila, had posted the photo on November 1, 2014, almost a year after Avijit had received his first known death threat from Farabi.
On September 24 last year, a Dhaka court sentenced Tonmoy Mollick, a youth from Khulna, for writing and composing a satirical song about Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Earlier on June 27, 2013, Buet teacher Hafizur Rahman Rana was handed seven years' imprisonment for threatening to kill the PM.
Ironically, a website called jasimuddinrahmani.wordpress.com, dedicated to the teachings of Jasimuddin Rahmani, the “spiritual leader” of rising militant outfit Ansarullah Bangla Team, still contains a video that calls upon the Muslims of Bangladesh to start a jihad against “murtads” (apostates).
Posted on December 29, 2013, the 14:43-minute video is titled "Why murdering [blogger] Rajib was a farz [must] and why murdering his associates will be a farz."
At 2:51 minute of the footage, a voice from the background says: “After the murder of this black sheep Rajib, starting with murtad [apostate] Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina all other ministers and MPs termed him a martyr.”
The video was available on the website as of last night.
"If law enforcers scan the internet for threatening contents, how can these websites still remain active?" asked a blogger, requesting anonymity.
According to Sumon Ahmed Sabir, an IT specialist, the whole issue is about setting priority and political will of the government.
He argues that if it were an issue of technical expertise or lack of coordination, the government could not have closed down over 100 websites in the last three months alone for uploading anti-government contents.
"In other words, they [the authorities] are active on cyberspace when it serves their own political agendas, never otherwise," said Sabir, managing director of Bangladesh Computer Emergency Response Team, which deals with computer threats and vulnerabilities.
Supreme Court lawyer Jyotirmoy Barua agrees. “If law enforcers can trace people making derogatory comments in any part of the country about our esteemed political figures, we can safely assume they have the capacity to do so for other threats as well.”
Last week, the state minister for home claimed Farabi had been under surveillance, raising serious questions about the authorities' response to his threats on Facebook to kill Avijit for his writing against religious bigotry.
Asked by the BBC Bangla why Farabi was not arrested even though law enforcers were aware of those threats, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, the state minister, said, "We were investigating those [the threats] and taking preparations accordingly but the incident [the killing] happened all of a sudden.”
But under the Information and Communication Technology Act, police can arrest anyone for issuing death threats online without requiring to probe it.
The 2006 Act was amended last year with provisions for harsher punishments for cyber offence, though there are criticisms about certain other provisions of the law.
"The threat that you will be murdered is a very specific criminal offence. The police can take action on its own under section 57 of the ICT Act,” said Jyotirmoy Barua, a barrister at the Supreme Court.
"It's not just the person who made the original post who can be tried. Those who commented on the post supporting the death threat can also be tried,” he added.
Asked why the government seems reluctant to go after the religious extremists, one blogger requesting anonymity said, “The government seems to consider atheist bloggers as nuisance putting the government in a difficult situation. The government thinks if it stands for the bloggers, it will be blamed for nurturing atheism."
Kowshik Ahmed, another blogger, said there was a tendency to label all bloggers as atheists. “That's why the government fears that if it supports the bloggers and their secular beliefs, it will become the target of Islamists.”
Contacted, Sheikh Md Rezaul Hyder, special superintended of Criminal Investigation Department, said although various law enforcement agencies have state-of-the-art technologies for monitoring cyber threats, they carry out surveillance and take action only when a case is filed.
A senior Rab official went further, saying there were no clear guidelines about how they should respond to such threats.
Interestingly, when Farabi had been issuing threats to kill Avijit, he was already facing charges of threatening to kill the imam who administered the funeral prayers of blogger Rajib, who was killed in February 2013.
Allegedly a member of banned militant outfit Hizb ut-Tahrir, Farabi continued to use Facebook even from the Kashimpur high security prison while awaiting trial for threatening to kill the imam.
A top CID official with experience of dealing with cybercrimes said most law enforcement units have their own wings to monitor such offence, but there was no coordination cell to systematically watch for malicious web contents round-the-clock.
Also, tracking down the creator or administrator of many sites or the people posting such contents on Facebook and Twitter is difficult because the servers are located outside Bangladesh.
Asked how threats such as those against Avijit go unnoticed by law enforcers, Col Ziaul Ahsan, additional director general of the Rapid Action Battalion, said, “Every month at least 300 people are killed, but how many of them [the perpetrators] can we catch? If we can catch even 3%, that's a lot.
“Haven't we been able to arrest the killers of blogger Rajib? We have caught those who hacked the Rab website and the High Court website.”
Over the last few days, the Daily Star also tried to reach the state minister for home for his comment on the issue, but he did not pick up the phone. He also did not respond to the text message asking him three questions for the same.