The High Court yesterday declared illegal a mobile court verdict that sentenced a Tangail schoolboy to two years' imprisonment last month for allegedly threatening a local ruling party lawmaker via Facebook.
It also acquitted Sabbir Shikder, a ninth-grader of Protima Bonki Public High School in Sakhipur upazila, from the case.
The mobile court had delivered the judgment “without lawful authority,” the HC said and directed the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Tangail to launch a judicial enquiry based on the statement given by Sabbir before it on September 27.
In his statement, Sabbir alleged that MP Anupam Shahjahan, Sakhipur Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) Mohammad Rafiqul Islam and Sakhipur Police Station's Officer-in-Charge (OC) Mohammad Maksudul Alam had tortured him.
The court also directed the secretaries of public administration and home ministries and the inspector general of police to withdraw the UNO and the OC from Sakhipur and place them outside Dhaka division “for a fair investigation”.
The HC bench of Justice M Enayetur Rahim and Justice Ashish Ranjan Das delivered the verdict after hearing submissions from the counsels of the UNO and the OC, a counsel of The Daily Star, whose report prompted the court to issue a suo moto rule, and Khurshid Alam Khan, a Supreme Court lawyer who placed the report before the judges.
Coming out of the court, Sabbir told reporters: “I've got justice.”
He was sentenced by the mobile court reportedly under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act for threatening the lawmaker via Facebook.
The Daily Star on September 20 published a report under the headline “Boy jailed for FB comment about MP”.
Quoting the UNO and the OC, the report said UNO Rafiqul, also an executive magistrate, passed the order a day after police detained the boy following the filing of a general diary by Anupam, lawmaker of Tangail-8 (Basail-Sakhipur) constituency.
Following the report, the HC on September 20 issued the suo moto rule and asked the UNO and the OC to appear before it on September 27 and explain as to why a schoolboy was sentenced to two years' in jail under the ICT act.
The HC also granted Sabbir bail and asked him to appear before it on the same day with relevant documents to ascertain his age.
But, on September 27, the UNO's lawyer SM Rezaul Karim told the HC that there was no connection between the general diary lodged in favour of the MP and the mobile court verdict.
Acting on a tip-off, the magistrate went to the place of occurrence and ordered police to arrest Sabbir after recovering marijuana from his possession, he said, adding that Sabbir pleaded guilty and then the magistrate convicted him.
Sabbir refuted the lawyer's version.
At the beginning of yesterday's proceeding, Khurshid Alam submitted Sabbir's statement to the court through swearing an affidavit by his father. Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam, who represented The Daily Star, submitted an affidavit authenticating the report. He said the reporter of the newspaper prepared the report after talking to the UNO and the OC.
Tanjib said the reporter talked to the UNO and the OC again when The Daily Star office in Dhaka found that a mobile court cannot deal with such a matter, as the ICT Act is not within the mobile court's schedule. Both the UNO and the OC then confirmed him again.
The lawyer mentioned the mobile phone numbers, date and time of the mobile phone communications between the UNO, the OC and the reporter, which was stated in the affidavit.
Besides, Prothom Alo, Ittefaq, Jugantor, Manab Zamin and Amader Shomoy published similar reports over the issue, he added.
Justice Rahim said according to Sabbir's statement, he was arrested on the night of September 16, while the magistrate in his statement said he arrested and convicted Sabbir around 5:00pm on September 18.
Tanjib said Prothom Alo and Jugantor on September 18 published reports about Sabbir's arrest following the general diary filed by the MP.
“Then, how can he be arrested and convicted in the September 18 evening?” Justice Rahim asked.
Defence counsel Rezaul Karim said the mobile court played vital roles in curbing “eve teasing” and acid violence. Although the law was enacted considering its good sides, there may be some deviations from the law in some cases, he added.
Justice Rahim said, “There is a lot of discussion about the law [Mobile Court Act-2009]. It is necessary to look into the matter if there is any weakness in it [the law].” He also cited a recent media report in which a Kurigram magistrate conducted mobile court from Dhaka over the phone.
Rezaul Karim said in Sabbir's case, the magistrate conducted the mobile court following due procedures and no deviation of the law occurred there. But The Daily Star report gave a different impression, he alleged.
Justice Rahim said no one denied the September 18 newspapers' report on Sabbir's arrest. If he was in police custody, how did he get 100 grammes of marijuana there, questioned the judge.
OC Maksudul's lawyer Nurul Islam Sujan said The Daily Star published the report with “mala fide intention” and to malign the image of the MP. “Its report cannot be reliable.”
Justice Rahim said let's assume that the magistrate went to the spot, that is Protima Bonki village, and ordered to send Sabbir to Tangail Central Jail after convicting him. Then why was he taken to the police station, he questioned.
When Sujan said the reporter has to see the case record of the magistrate, Justice Rahim asked: “How can a reporter see a magistrate's report? All newspapers mentioned that they talked to the UNO.”
Khurshid Alam said the report was not about the image of the lawmaker, rather it was on whether the mobile court was conducted following due procedures.
He said there were recent reports on anomalies in mobile courts' procedures in Kurigram and Chittagong. Mobile courts will discharge their responsibilities but they have to follow due procedures, he added.
WHAT SABBIR TOLD BEFORE THE HC ON SEP 27?
“I was home on September 16. At 9:00pm, someone called me from outside. I came out and saw a man in plainclothes and a policeman. They asked me to go to the police station. They took me to the office room of the OC. The OC showed me a mobile phone and asked me what I had written. I said I did not write that. He repeatedly questioned me about it and I replied I did not write that.
“Then I was taken to the MP's house. I saw that the MP was sitting on a sofa. I was produced before the MP. He [the lawmaker] asked me what I had written against him. Then he hit me twice. I didn't mind, thinking he might be angry. The MP asked the OC to take me to the police station.
“I was taken to the police station where the OC severely tortured me blindfolded and threatened me with crossfire. Fearing crossfire, I confessed that I wrote that. The OC asked me not to write such things anymore. After three days, I was taken to the UNO's room. The UNO kicked on my chest, and I fell unconscious. Someone took me away. I was taken to the police station and the OC told me that I was handed two years' imprisonment.”
Sabbir burst into tears and told the court that he wanted justice.